Addressing close to 500 people gathered to honour Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka, Employment and Social Development and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney – who is not Jewish – told the crowd he has always thought of Rabbi Bulka as his rabbi.
“I am proud to say he is my rabbi. The truth is that Reuven Bulka is Canada’s rabbi,” said the MP from Calgary Southeast.
The gala tribute dinner, held June 11 at the Fairmont Château Laurier, was a virtual love-fest as people from every corner of Rabbi Bulka’s wide-reaching network came out to honour and praise the man known by many as “the people’s rabbi” and raise funds for two causes close to the rabbi’s heart: Congregation Machzikei Hadas and the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation.
For one evening, there were no philosophical or denominational differences among the hundreds in attendance. Having served as spiritual leader of Machzikei Hadas for nearly a half-century, and during that time having been involved in myriad community events and causes – in both the Jewish and wider communities – Rabbi Bulka is known by, and has touched the lives of, countless people, from every segment of the community.
In his keynote speech, Kenney praised Rabbi Bulka for his many years of work in the community, paying particular attention to his outreach efforts to other faith and ethnic communities.
“Rabbi Bulka has done more than anyone for the cause of interfaith relations in the city of Ottawa for five decades. As a Christian, I must say how touched I am by the way you have reached out to the Christian community,” he said.
Linda Eagan, president of the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, said that, at fundraising events for the foundation, they would ask people to stand if their lives had been touched by cancer. That evening, she asked people to stand if their lives had been touched by Rabbi Bulka. Not surprisingly, the entire crowd leaped from their seats.
Dinner co-chair Stephen Greenberg – who spearheaded the event with co-chair Arnie Vered – remarked on Rabbi Bulka’s great sense of humour and “corny puns,” and said the rabbi’s “purpose and goal has always been to help people, spread kindness and devotion to community service.”
But, added Greenberg, Bulka’s “greatest impact happens more quietly, out of view, helping others.”
Rabbi Bulka’s legendary wit was in evidence as he began his own remarks.
“This is a miracle. Two eulogies, and I am still alive,” he quipped.
“I want to begin by telling you that this rumour that I am retiring is an ugly rumour; it is not true. A rabbi never, ever retires, never ever,” he said.
He is, however, beginning his transition to become rabbi emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas next year. The congregation’s next spiritual leader, Rabbi Idan Scher, will be arriving in Ottawa toward the end of the summer and will work closely with Rabbi Bulka as associate rabbi until his installation in advance of the High Holidays in 2015.
Rabbi Bulka thanked everyone who had been involved in organizing the tribute, but particularly noted the extreme efforts of Arnie Vered, who worked tirelessly in spite of his own personal health challenges. Vered, he noted, was ably assisted by his daughter, Jordana Vered, who took on the enormous job of event co-ordinator.