It was bad enough that my heartbeat went berserk and I had to be hospitalized. But on Rosh Hashanah? Not only would I miss the synagogue service I so loved, and not have visitors, but how could I possibly adhere to the High Holy Day commandments? Sure, God would forgive me – my life was at stake – but I couldn’t bear the thought of ushering in the New Year without its glorious rituals.

The hospital had its own rituals, I soon discovered.

“My husband is Jewish, too,” said the admissions clerk at the Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, California, while glancing at my “religious affiliation” on the form I had just filled out.

“Is he a good husband?” I asked, at a loss for the right thing to say.

“Yes! My mother taught me that Jewish men make good husbands, and she was right.”

I held little hope that my religious requirements would be understoodAfter being admitted, I took the elevator to the 6th floor telemetry unit, where my arrhythmia would be monitored for three days while I began a new medication. I approached the nurses’ station with trepidation. I held little hope that my religious requirements would be understood, much less accommodated.

“For religious reasons, I can’t take calls starting at sunset, or turn my lights on or off, or buzz for help,” I told the head nurse. Could anything sound weirder?

I didn’t even ask about lighting candles. Not a good idea with oxygen around.

But she didn’t blink. “Just write down the names of people you will permit the desk to update on your condition,” she said. “When evening comes, I’ll tape your light switch and put up a sign. If you need a nurse, you can just walk out and find one, since you’ll be on a portable monitor. No problemo.” Evidently, in Berkeley, anybody’s ritual goes. Whew!

“What about meals?” I said with a sigh. “I’m strictly kosher.”

“I’ll send up a dietician,” the nurse said.

And she did. A Jewish dietician spent an hour with me, reviewing available choices, filling out menus and waxing nostalgia about the kosher home of her childhood. The kitchen adhered to our requests, but the packaged main dish never arrived hot. Well, better cold than nothing.

The next issue was to hear the shofar, the hallmark of the holiday. But the hospital rabbi was on vacation, the head chaplain informed me. What? Then I remembered that Yehuda Ferris, the Berkeley Chabad rabbi, had offered to come by. I called him.

“Sure. And get me room numbers of the other Jewish patients so I can blow shofar for them, too,” he requested.

But the head chaplain informed me: “Sorry, the HIPAA laws prohibit disclosing religion except to the official hospital chaplains.”

Oy, how would my 87-year-old Christian roommate respond?I then had a brainstorm; the rabbi could blow it over the loudspeaker like a “Code Blue.” (It hadn’t occurred to me that using a mic – electricity – was forbidden.) I appealed to the head nurse.

“No way. That’s imposing your customs on others,” she said.

“But surely you broadcast carols on Christmas,” I responded.

“As a matter of fact, we don’t. If we did it for Christmas, we’d have to do it for every religion’s holidays. Do you have any idea how many different religions are represented here every day?” she asked.

Foiled by political correctness. The horn would be blown in my room.

Oy, how would my 87-year-old Christian roommate respond? She hadn’t uttered a peep when I kept my light on all night, but the shofar was pushing it.

But, surprise, surprise! “I have a Jewish son-in-law; I know all about Rosh Hashanah,” my roommate said, looking forward to the event. Sure enough, on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Ferris marched into my hospital room. His black fedora was cocked gangster-like to the right, and the tails of his frock coat flapped with every step. His svelte, youthful wife followed behind, pushing the youngest of their 10 children in a stroller.

The news traveled fast. My Kenya-born nurse rushed into the room and brought a Jewish colleague, who was proud to be an insider.

“Tekiyah.” Through an imaginative picture window, the bearded rabbi was silhouetted against the rolling hills like a transplanted Chagall. He elongated the pitch-perfect “iy” so that the plaintive cry for attention from Above reverberated inside me.

Shevarim.” The interrupted chords of the second sequence embodied my feelings of humility and brokenness in the face of the Creator.

Teruah.” The staccato notes of the third blast were my own heartbeats, now in regular rhythm, both pleading and grateful. My body quivered along with the notes, and tears rolled down my face.

“Tekiya.” Everyone in the room, Jew and non-Jew, stood transfixed.

It felt holyThe hospital room had been transformed into a synagogue whose congregation consisted of my Kenyan nurse, my 87-year-old roommate with a Jewish son-in-law, a Jewish nurse with a non-Jewish husband, plus assorted passersby, and it felt holy.

G‑d must have smiled, too, for He gave me a very good year.