Machzikei Hadas hopes to install new spiritual leader by Rosh Hashanah 2015
Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka, spiritual leader of Congregation Machzikei Hadas since 1967, will retire as the synagogue’s pulpit rabbi, probably before Rosh Hashanah in 2015. In a November 18 letter to congregants, Rabbi Bulka explained he will “graduate” to become rabbi emeritus of the modern Orthodox congregation, “a new role … which will keep me connected to the shul and to you.”
Jonah Rabinovitch, president of Machzikei Hadas, has announced a succession plan in which a search will be undertaken immediately. If all goes according to the plan, the search committee will identify three or four top candidates who will visit the congregation over the next few months. Members will then vote on their choice.
Machzikei Hadas’ rabbinical search committee, co-chaired by David Appotive and Bram Bregman, includes Bonnie Fainer, Adele Sidney, Charlie Wiseman, Lawrence Weinstein, Cybele Hamburg, Tamara Fathi, Sari Zelenietz and Rabinovitch.
It is hoped the new rabbi will be settled in Ottawa by next Rosh Hashanah and will work with Rabbi Bulka as associate rabbi for a transitional year before being installed as pulpit rabbi by the following Rosh Hashanah.
However, Rabinovitch noted, “if the right candidate does not come along, Rabbi Bulka ill remain as rabbi until we have the appropriate candidate in place.”
When a brief article appeared in the October 3, 1967 edition of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin announcing that Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka of New York had been appointed as the new spiritual leader of Congregation Machzikei Hadas, few could have imagined it would be the beginning of one of the longest and most remarkable rabbinic tenures in Jewish Canadian history.
In 1967, when Rabbi Bulka arrived in Ottawa at age 23, Machzikei Hadas was a Lowertown congregation of less than 100 families. Founded in 1907 and located at the corner of Murray Street and King Edward Avenue since 1923, it was struggling because much of Ottawa’s Jewish community had already moved away from the neighbourhoods it had been centred in since early in the 20th century.
The congregation, though, was revitalized by the charismatic young rabbi and, by 1973, had built a new synagogue on Virginia Drive in Alta Vista that eventually grew to encompass more than 500 families.
Over the years, Rabbi Bulka has become legendary for the scope of his many activities as both a clergyman and a leader in the Jewish community and in the broader civic community at the local, provincial, national and international levels. Somehow finding time to earn his PhD and to write or edit more than 30 books and countless newspaper, magazine and journal articles, he has been a tireless leader in many organizations – including the Canadian Jewish Congress, where he served as co-president from 2007 to 2009 – and a crusader for many worthy causes.
In an interview with the Bulletin, Rabbi Bulka said he was looking forward to assuming his role as rabbi emeritus, although the speciﬁ cs of his duties remain to be determined.
“I’ll be available to fill the congregational needs,” he said.
“I hope to,” Rabbi Bulka said, when asked if he planned to continue with such activities as hosting his popular weekly radio program, Sunday Night with Rabbi Bulka, on CFRA, providing the Jewish perspective to the “Ask the Religion Experts” column in the Ottawa Citizen, and his many charitable involvements.
Looking back at a long career in which he has performed lifecycle events for generations of many of the same families, the rabbi was philosophical as he contemplated this next step in his long career.
“Nothing lasts forever – nor should it, because there needs to be room for succession, for new energies, and I’m happy that that will be happening and that it will unfold well,” he said. “Every rabbinate has its challenges – and we’ve had challenges here – but the [Ottawa] community has been super-duper and my experience in the rabbinate here, on the basis of comparisons with other colleagues of mine, has been right at the top.”
Rabbi Bulka said he is most definitely looking forward to opportunities to spend more time with his children and grandchildren, none of whom live in Ottawa.
“I have two girls and three boys,” he said. “Most of them are in the New York area, although one is in Baltimore and another is in Jerusalem.”
Rabbi Bulka noted that, among his five children and his wife Leah’s two children, the couple has more than 30 grandchildren and he’s looking forward to being with them on a more leisurely basis.
While Rabbi Bulka speaks of the inevitability of his retirement, it will surely not be easy for a congregation that has known no other spiritual leader for almost half a century.
“I speak for all of us when I say that Rabbi Bulka is a first-class mensch and that it will be difficult to see him transition,” wrote Rabinovitch. “He has touched every one of our lives and has always been there for us.”