Just a Little Justice

Justice, Justice shall you pursue . . .

. . .צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף

Deuteronomy 16:20

This verse from the Bible is translated many different ways, but I think this one is the most literal. Some translate it as “Righteousness, righteousness, shall you follow . . .” and some go with “Equity, equity, you are to pursue . . .” (I’m not a fan of this one).

Following my last post about Hebrew roots and given everything that is going on the world right now, I’m moved to write about the root צדק – tzedek.

Tzedek is generally understood as justice. From this root, we also have tzedakah meaning charity. A righteous person is called a tzadik.

You might notice that none of these three is strictly tied to the law. But they all relate to doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

How do we know what is right?

Most religions and philosophies have some version of the most basic principle.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Or the opposite: “What is hateful to you, do not do to others.”

Another version is: “What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself.”

Whether it’s about wearing a mask to protect others from coronavirus or acknowledging that we have inequality in society or acting against police brutality, we can all take a moment to consider the effect of our actions on others.

An interesting addition to the discussion of the root tzedek is that when you make it reflexive (the action of the verb is done to the speaker), it means “to apologize.” Merriam-Webster notes that to apologize more often means to excuse or defend, not acknowledge a fault. And here we clearly see a link to justifying one’s actions through the root tzedek.

I guess the real question we need to ask ourselves is: when we look inward, can we justify our actions to ourselves and others by showing that we are doing the right thing? Are we pursuing justice and righteousness?

A Thought about Yom Kippur

When I worked at the University of Washington, I asked to take Yom Kippur off.

“Will you be going to synagogue?”


“Will you be fasting?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.”

“Then why are you taking it off?”


I hated that conversation. And I love the fact that I’ve never had to have that conversation in Israel.

I usually go to the Kotel (Western Wall) for Yom Kippur, but I live further away now and it’s probably going to be hot, even in the morning. I don’t know if I want to walk 2 hours round trip to have a few words with God. God is everywhere, right? So I should be able to stay home.

And that is the beauty of living in Israel. No one will question what I choose to do on Yom Kippur and no matter what I do, I don’t feel any less Jewish.


In the US, there’s a lot of effort that goes into maintaining a connection with Judaism. You have to plan ahead to coordinate holidays; if you want a community, you have to join a synagogue or community center (often paying dues and fees); if you want to be more religious, you have to shop at certain stores, live in certain neighborhoods, reorder your life slightly out of step with the surrounding community. It’s hard.

Here in Israel, I can effortlessly connect to my Jewish heritage. The nation functions on the Jewish calendar, I can walk into any synagogue at any time or never walk into any synagogue ever, I’m in-step with everyone and everything around me. I don’t have to try so hard.

I sound lazy, I’m sure. But it feels to me like my soul is planted in the fertile soil that it needs so that I can grow in other directions.

My dad had a pin that he liked a lot. He probably got it from Chabad. It said: “We never lost it.” I asked him what it meant and he said that we never lost the answers. I was about seven, so it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Now I can see that even if you never lost a thing, sometimes it doesn’t always fit properly. But once it’s in its rightful place, everything else seems to realign itself.

I never lost my Judaism, I just didn’t have a way to make it fit properly for me in the US. Now that I’m in Israel, I feel that everything is in its rightful place no matter what I do on Yom Kippur.


I’m sorry if my posts offended anyone. I’m sorry that some posts got a bit too long. I’m sorry if I misrepresented something or someone my writing. I hope you can forgive me. I will try to do better next year.

Wishing everyone a Gmar Chatima Tova!
May you be written and sealed in the Book of Life!
May you have a meaningful fast (if you’re fasting)!


Traditional Yom Kippur posts: 2015 | 2016 | 2017


On the day I arrived in Israel 15 years ago, February 8, 2002, I planted an almond tree in my aunt’s garden.


There were some hard days for that tree and it seemed like it died.  But it didn’t.  It was busy digging into the land and strengthening its root system.

It rejuvenated itself, grew again, and began to thrive.

And now this tall, strong tree bears delicious fruit.


*This story is brought to you by Metaphors-R-Us.

Tu B’Shvat Aliyah

In Hebrew aliyah translates literally as “ascend.”  It’s also the word used for immigrating to Israel.  For reasons unknown to me, the English is styled as “to make aliyah.”  I made aliyah (or I ascended) to Israel on February 8, 2002.  It wasn’t exactly Tu B’Shvat, but that year it had been the week before.

I was met at the airport by my aunt, my mother’s sister, who not only immigrated to Israel first and raised her children here, but also was in charge of bringing many more Jews to Israel in her various roles in the Jewish agency.  She took me to her house first where I showered and slept for a while.  It was a night flight and I was totally exhausted.

Later in the afternoon, my cousin arrived and we were all just sitting and catching up.  But then my aunt made an announcement:  We have to plant an almond tree before the sun sets.

My cousin and I set to digging and planted the tree.


What do you do on your first day in Israel?  If it’s Tu B’Shvat and your name is Ilana, you plant a tree, of course!


And then something happened and that poor little tree died.  Well, you know, sometimes trees have a little difficulty adjusting to a new place.  The gardener said that was that and whattayagonnado?  So they cut it down.

And then something odd (miraculous?) happened.  It grew back.  Apparently, the roots had survived and it just rejuvenated itself from its own root system.

Birthday for the Trees

In last week’s post, I mentioned that Tu B’Shvat is the New Year for the Trees and that in Hebrew the holiday is called Chag L’Ilanot (Ilan is a tree; Ilana is the feminine version).  I make a special point of Tu B’Shvat because in 2002, it represented a new beginning for me – a new year for this Ilana.  Every year a new chapter unfolds in late January/early February; I’ve gained a year in Israel and I have a clean slate for the next year.

Even though my birthday is around the Jewish New Year and I like the feeling of January 1 as a definitive calendar page turn, I like Tu B’Shvat because I chose this new year and by the circumstance of my name, it chose me.


I don’t know if the tree in my aunt’s garden is still the rejuvenated one or if it was replaced.  But it actually doesn’t matter.  There is an almond tree in that corner of the garden.  Whether it is the one I planted with my own hands, the one that rejuvenated itself from its own roots, or a new tree altogether, the end result is that every version of that almond tree belongs in that place.