Canada’s Rabbi: New biography of Rabbi Reuven Bulka Z"L

Rikki Ash has always known her beloved grandfather was a special person. She knew that he had lived a life of purpose and made everyday count. In her new book, Canada’s Rabbi: The Life and legacy of Rabbi Reuven Bulka, Ash presents a biography of Rabbi Bulka z”l through the lens of Viktor Frankl’s study on how people’s lives are framed by a search for meaning, known as logotherapy.

It is no accident that Ash chose Frankl’s work as a backdrop of the biography as Rabbi Bulka was close friends with the renowned psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, even presiding over Frankl’s funeral.

Ash, whose father is Shmuel Bulka one of Rabbi Bulka’s sons, grew up in Staten Island before moving to Long Island where she now lives with her husband and children. She recalls that Rabbi Bulka visited her family often in New York, and she loved the annual trip to Ottawa for Sukkot. It was always a happy time to celebrate such a family-oriented holiday together in the cold Ottawa fall.

She shares that she used to interview her grandfather just to record his stories and through that process she got to know him better. She heard countless accounts of how he contributed to people’s lives and how impactful he was on others, and she hopes this book, which is her first published work, continues that legacy. 

“My conversations with my grandfather felt very intimate. It felt like we were the only two people in the world, and once I started writing and interviewing other people, I realized how impactful his style was. He treated everyone like they were the only person that mattered. So, I didn’t want the book to just be a biography about his life. That could come off as a little dry, especially if you don’t know him, I wanted there to be some purpose behind the book. My hope is that when you read this book you will see a person who lived with meaning and be inspired to live your own life with purpose.”

Ash recalled how her grandfather always supported the dreams of all his grandchildren, of which there were many, but he would never count them (great grandchildren too) perhaps because of the Talmudic teaching that blessing is not found “in something that has been weighed, nor in something that has been measured, nor in something that has been counted, only in something that is hidden from the eyes.”  She remembers that she once told him that she wanted to be an author and showed him how she had written a short children’s story. Rabbi Bulka, who was a well-respected and prolific author with more than 40 published titles, printed off copies for her and turned her into an author. 

This support of her writing eventually led her to become one of Rabbi Bulka’s editors, helping him near the end of his life when he was ill.

“Working together on his books took our relationship to a higher level. It made it more adult and made me feel like he really trusted me with his work and valued my input. I wish he were here today to read my book. I’d love to know his opinion of it.” 

Ash, who works as a high school teacher and who has also started life coaching business based on logotherapy, hopes that her grandfather’s message of purpose carries on for years to come. 

“I want people to read this book about a person who lived a life of purpose, and hopefully translate that into their own lives,” she explains. “It doesn't take some monumental change to live a purposeful life. It's really the small things. I think that's what you'll see in the book. Every chapter is not about a huge thing that my grandfather did but does talk about small acts of kindness. And over time, the ripple effect makes a big impact. I hope readers can see how they can contribute to making the world a better place.”

An example of Rabbi Bulka’s many acts of kindness came up most recently while Ash was doing an interview for her book.

“I was just doing a TV interview … and the interviewer knew my grandfather and had worked on his radio show. He shared that my grandfather would bring cookies to the studio every week.” 

She marvels at this, adding that she doesn’t know how he managed to make everyone feels so important, how he was able to love his community and family so much that neither ever felt that they were not a priority. 

She added his love for the Ottawa community was deep and genuine. To read more about this legacy of love, you may borrow a copy of Canada’s Rabbi: The Life and legacy of Rabbi Reuven Bulka from the Greenberg Families Library at the Soloway JCC. It will be available for sale shortly on Amazon.

To watch the CTV interview with Ash that aired on March 15, 2024, click here.

--Headshot credit Peter Waiser