As I stepped on the treadmill we had recently rented in our Israeli home, I wondered how I’d keep going for 20 minutes. I wanted to exercise. I know I desperately needed to get in shape. I don’t have the energy to go for a walk, and the weather is always too hot or cold (for me). But it’s not easy to just walk in the same spot, if you have nothing to distract you.

And then I smiled to myself as I remembered the last time I had that thought.

I was lying on a cold steel slabI was lying on a cold, steel slab in the radiation room of Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem. The radiation treatment was meant to reduce the size of the tumor in my body before having surgery to remove what was left of it.

I was there six days a week for several weeks. No exceptions. It was made quite clear to me that no matter how terrible I felt, I had to have radiation every day. If I felt too sick to come, I should call an ambulance, and if necessary, they would hospitalize me and take me from the ward each day to my treatment.

It sounded to me like a car with no brakes—once the treatment started, it had to continue, come what may; there was no stopping it. Chemo, on the other hand, could be altered, postponed, and the make-up and strength could be changed. In short, it was more flexible, but not so radiation.

The actual radiation lasted for about 10 minutes. I wasn’t allowed to move at all, and I wondered how I’d pass the time.

I know, I know ... 10 minutes isn’t so long. But when you hear heavy grinding and watch a slow-moving enormous machine inching over your body so closely, you just want to close your eyes and imagine yourself somewhere else completely.

The first day, I counted slowly, knowing it would be about 600 seconds. I wanted to see how far I could count before the machine stopped and the technicians came back in. But that was not a satisfactory way of passing the time because I’d know how long there was to go, and it made the time seem interminable.

So I decided to recite in my mind some chapters of Tehillim (Psalms) that I knew off by heart. That was better because I varied them so I was never quite sure how many I would get through.

But after a while, I decided I needed a change. So I decided to “write” some essays in my mind, and just hope that I’d remember them when I got off the table and back to my computer. Many of my essays, which eventually turned into a book, had their beginnings in that redoubtable radiation room.

And now, here I was wanting to find a way to make the time pass as I exercised on a treadmill that two years ago I couldn’t have ever imagined using again. G‑d in His kindness brought me safely through two years of radiation, chemotherapy and surgeries, as well as months of debilitating fatigue.

I opened my laptop and positioned it on top of the kids’ bunk bed, which brought it to eye level, and tuned into a workshop video. As I listened and watched, I gradually increased the speed on the treadmill until I was walking at a reasonable pace and barely noticed the effort.

As I felt the blood flowing through my limbs giving me strength, I couldn’t help but think of the people I met in the cancer ward who are no longer in this world—those who had succumbed to Covid-19 or were still suffering from the after-effects, and those who had been robbed of a parent, sibling, husband or wife by the vicious virus.

How little we really know about what G‑dHow little we really know about what G‑d has in store for us has in store for us. We think we know all the possible diseases that exist and how to avoid or at least deal with them. And then, wham! The world is hit with a pandemic that defies all our previous medical knowledge.

This year, we have learned that medicine doesn’t have all the answers. As it says in the prayer book—teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah (repentance, prayer and acts of kindness)—coupled with faith and trust in G‑d need to be added to the Ministry of Health’s instructions to make up the true prescription for us to be written in the proverbial “Book of Life.”

The prayer book says, “Because on this day you will be forgiven, you will be purified and cleansed of all your sins.” What an amazing chance we are given to make a new start with our slates wiped clean of all our past misdemeanors, our mistakes forgotten. Let’s not miss this opportunity.

As I think back over the last year, I am grateful to be here, able to exercise on my treadmill. This year, as we pray (hopefully, we will be able to pray in-person with our community instead of on our own at home), G‑d will hear our sincere request to be forgiven and feel our genuine determination to try and become our best selves.