Rabbi Reuven Bulka was lauded Jan. 18 in a virtual prayer program as a bridge-builder and an inspiration to thousands.
Presented by the Ottawa synagogue he served for 48 years, Congregation Machzikei Hadas, the “Worldwide Prayer Rally” heard praise and prayers from political leaders and others the rabbi touched over the decades.
Psalms were read in English, Hebrew and French.
The 76-year-old rabbi received an advanced cancer diagnosis earlier this month. He is now in New York with his five children.
Former governor general David Johnston lauded Rabbi Bulka as a “champion of inclusivity.”
During his tenure as prime minister, Stephen Harper told the service that he had many opportunities to see Rabbi Bulka at local and national public events, and to visit with him.
“It is not for nothing Rabbi Bulka has been called Canada’s rabbi,” said Harper. “Throughout his long life, he has been a credit to his faith, to the wider community and great country.”
Harper said the main lesson he learned from Rabbi Bulka is to live life from two perspectives, gratitude and hope. “Gratitude for all that we have, all that God has given us, and hope for what the future may bring,” Harper said.Rabbi Bulka was recalled as a “man of principle and conviction inspired by his own unshakable faith” by former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty.
Along with a sense of humour, Rabbi Bulka, “as we’ve all come to learn, is a force to be reckoned with – high energy, persistence, relentlessness, and an outright refusal to accept the status quo.“
For years, Rabbi Bulka said he is ready for God,” McGuinty said. “But the real question is, is God ready for Rabbi Bulka?”
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson recalled several of Rabbi Bulka’s local initiatives, including his interfaith efforts and work with the United Way, Canadian Blood Services, his annual Remembrance Day sermons at the National War Memorial, and the city-wide Kindness Week.
Rabbi Bulka is the founder of Kind Canada, a non-profit that encourages kindness. In 2019, the city named Rabbi Bulka Kindness Park in Ottawa’s Alta Vista neighbourhood, Watson noted.“
The whole city is praying for you,” he added.
Rabbi Bulka’s name is “synonymous” with Remembrance Day, said Maj.-Gen. Guy Chapdelaine, Chaplain General of Canada’s Armed Forces.
He also noted Rabbi Bulka’s support for Armed Forces chaplains and the Royal Canadian Legion.“You are a blessing to all of us who keep watch in serving Canada,” said Chapdelaine, “a source of inspiration and man of kindness. Please know how surrounded you are by so many who love you.”
Imam Samy Metwally of the Ottawa Muslim Association praised Rabbi Bulka’s work in interfaith efforts in Ottawa.Also addressing the service were Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Council of America; Andrea Freedman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa; and Bonnie Boretsky, president of Congregation Machzikei Hadas.
Hosting the service was Rabbi Idan Scher, spiritual leader of Congregation Machzikei Hadas.In his response, Rabbi Bulka said he was “full of gratitude” for the “very meaningful” program.“
If there’s anything we learned from COVID,” he offered, “it’s that we’re all in this together, and the more together we are in this, the better we’re going to get out of it.”He said the most important thing in life “is to appreciate each other.” Differences “fade into insignificance when we realize the blessings we have.”