‘Trust my instinct when I say this candidate has it.’
That is what Rudy Appotive, then-president of Congregation Machzikei Hadas, said to his son upon hiring “that rookie rabbi from New York,” Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka, as the modern Orthodox congregation’s new spiritual leader in 1967.
Rudy Appotive’s son, Stephen Appotive, himself now a past-president of Machzikei Hadas, repeated those words as Rabbi Idan Scher was installed as the congregation’s first new spiritual leader in 48 years, and Rabbi Bulka was appointed rabbi emeritus at a ceremony, September 1, at the synagogue in Alta Vista.
More than 450 people packed the sanctuary at Machzikei Hadas to celebrate what many described as a “bittersweet” and “historic” occasion.
Charles Wiseman, the current Machzikei Hadas president, Mayor Jim Watson, and Andrea Freedman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, all praised Rabbis Bulka and Scher for their collective – and respective – dedication, energy, passion, ideas and leadership.
“People just wanted to be a part of this. Rabbi Bulka has been in this position for 48 years, and in that time he’s built the stature of the rabbi at Machzikei Hadas, elevated it to a level that probably no one ever expected possible,” said Rabbi Michael Goldstein, the congregation’s executive director, who served as MC for the ceremony.
“And so, when that chair is being filled by somebody else, it is a big deal. Not just for Machzikei, but for the Ottawa Jewish community, for the Canadian Jewish community, for Canadian society. The person who fills this chair has an impact much beyond the walls of the synagogue.”
Rabbi Scher became spiritual leader of Machzikei Hadas after serving as the congregation’s associate rabbi over the past year.
Rabbi Scher said he was humbled at the recognition and praise he received during the installation and unveiled his “three-pronged” approach: focusing on Judaism that speaks deeply to everyone; reaching beyond the shul; and focusing on the Machzikei Hadas family.
“I’m ready,” Rabbi Scher said. “I’m feeling great and quite overwhelmed … after a year of being here, to know that there’s this many people cheering me on. It’s something you don’t see very often. It’s incredible.”
Rabbi Bulka said the position of rabbi emeritus is not something he takes lightly.
“It means a lot,” said Rabbi Bulka. “One thing it does signify is an eternal link between me and [my wife] Leah and the congregation. And that is priceless.”
Rabbi Bulka added that becoming rabbi emeritus allows for some continuity, and for him to spend more time with his grandchildren; but that he will be around for many years to come.
In a move Rabbi Bulka described as “a little unorthodox,” the two rabbis set up chairs and engaged in an interview, reminiscent of Rabbi Bulka’s radio show, bantering for the crowd.
During the interview, the two rabbis praised each other.
“I know a lot of people have made mention of some of the sterling qualities that you have, the energy that you have, the personableness that you have, your great ideas, the capacity you have to engage people of all ages … but the thing that impressed me more than anything else, is the phenomenal respect you have for tradition,” Rabbi Bulka told his successor.
“You think of Rabbi Bulka, and you think of someone who walks among people and just clearly stands out as the embodiment of every one of our cherished values of Judaism. And when you think about it, who amongst Canadian Jewry is a greater ambassador than Rabbi Bulka? It’s an unbelievable thing,” said Rabbi Scher.
When Rabbi Bulka asked Rabbi Scher about how he developed his rabbinic skills, the younger rabbi pointed to the influence of his late grandparents and his parents and said the best way he could live up to their examples was to become a rabbi.