On rosh hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. Who shall live and who shall die, who shall perish by fire and who by water, who by Roman soldier and who by cancer. . .”

“No, that’s not how it goes,” I wearily chided myself from my hospital bed. I knew I was making up my own words. But alone in the wee hours of the morning, as the High Holy Days approached, that was the best rendition of the Unetanah Tokef (the central prayer of the High Holy Day service) that I could muster. And my brother Jeffrey later told me that spending the eve of Yom Kippur with me in the hospital was the most meaningful Yom Kippur of his life.

I had been acting strange for a few weeks. I am usually conscientious and punctual, but that...

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