By Rabbi Chanan Morrison
One of the last people to speak with Rav Kook before his death was Prof. Hermann Zondek. Director of Jerusalem’s Bikur Cholim hospital, Zondek treated the rabbi during his final illness in a guest house in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem. The doctor was amazed at Rav Kook's concern and empathy for everyone with whom he came in contact - even during his last hours, when suffering intense pain.
Prof. Zondek was an early victim of the rise of Nazism in Germany. In 1933, while treating patients in his Berlin hospital, he was called to his office. There an SS officer informed Zondek that he was dismissed from his position as director of the Berlin City Hospital – effective immediately. His service during World War I as a military physician, his highly-respected medical research, and his well-placed patients, which included German chancellors - these all counted for naught.
That very night, Zondek fled Germany. He later commented, "It was only after I left Germany that I realized that, until 1933, the Jews were living in a fool’s paradise."
Two years later, the doctor was working in Jerusalem, treating the aged chief rabbi in his final days. "A person's true nature is revealed during illness," he noted. "The Rav bore his terrible suffering with great wisdom."
"In his final hour, he was in severe pain. The room was full of people; and his colleague-student Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap sat by his bed.
"About half an hour before his death, the rabbi took my hand in his. With great emotion, he told me,
"I hope that the prominent sons of our people will not leave our land, but will remain here to help build it up. Please, stay here in the Land of Israel!"
"The truth is that this incident took place not long after I had come to the country. I had many difficulties adjusting. Much of what I found was not to my taste, and I was strongly considering leaving the country. But the Rav's heartfelt appeal, at that critical juncture, was one of the most important factors that helped me decide to stay in our land. As a result, I put down roots here."
(Adapted from Shivchei HaRe'iyah, p. 304.)