Parshat Zachor

No One Left Behind

Every year as enter the Hebrew month of Adar, we do not just put on a happy face, we prepare for Purim. We bake hamantaschen, choose a costume for the festivities, and plan for the Megillah reading. Another item on this checklist is hearing Parshat Zachor (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) on the Shabbat immediately preceding the holiday.

This special Sabbath reading begins: “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt.” The afterglow of the Exodus is dimmed by Amalek’s vicious attack on the Jewish people. Amalek is believed to be the ancestral people of Haman, so highlighting this story connects the former’s crude assault with the latter’s premeditated genocidal plan.

Since ancient times, the honorable way to fight a war was for soldiers to face each other on the battlefield. Amalek, however, launched a surprise attack from behind and targeted the most vulnerable. We can only imagine that among the innocents caught off guard were those who walked slowly or needed assistance, those who had trouble following the path or those who were anxious altogether about the road ahead.

On Shabbat Zachor, Amalek’s unprovoked brutality is not the only thing we remember. These three verses underscore our responsibility to one another, especially the most vulnerable.

This month we celebrate Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). Inclusion is not a finite sprint; it’s a marathon with no end.

Creating a more inclusive community requires as much peer-to-peer relationships as dedicated leadership. At Park Avenue Synagogue, our goal is to change the culture of our community with welcoming and acceptance as our default mode.

To focus our efforts, we created an “inclusion checklist” for planning all synagogue events. This ever-evolving document ensures that gatherings are mapped out with inclusion at the forefront of minds. Questions cover details before, during, and after the program. With the inclusion checklist guiding our planning and implementation, our clergy, lay and professional leadership can focus on welcoming anyone who walks through the door – and into the Zoom room – with the best practices Dr. Ron Wolfson maps out in his Relational Judaism.

While JDAIM raises awareness about welcoming, accepting and celebrating our differences during one month of the year, inclusion manifests itself best as a daily mindset committed to a shared vision of community.

It is important to note that after Matan Torah and the construction of the Mishkan, the Jewish people changed how they moved their camp. From that point forward on the path to the Promised Land, the Israelites marched together making sure that everyone was included and that no one was left behind.

Rabbi Charles E. Savenor serves as the Director of Congregational Education at Park Avenue Synagogue in New York.