A heroic Jewish leader who never lost his common touch

Stephen Victor shares how the rabbi’s presence was felt everywhere, at every milestone sharing wisdom, humour and even candies.

Our hearts are broken.

We cannot believe he is gone.

He was everywhere … blue suit, shirt, tie - no overcoat.

Under the Chuppah, facing a bride and groom, and expounding on the interplay of their last names; fixing a Mezuzah on the door of a new home or office; pitching at the Jewish Men’s Softball League; comforting the sick at their bedsides at the hospital; blowing a Ram’s horn at a hospital so that the Jewish patients could hear the sound of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah; lighting the Menorah at City Hall during Chanukah; consoling a family on the passing of a loved one; standing at graveside in minus 40 degree Celsius Ottawa weather officiating at the burial of a relative or friend; shuckling while praying silently in the front row of the auxiliary Shul at Machzikei Hadas during Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv services; standing on the Bimah at Machzikei Hadas delivering his sermon, explaining the weekly Torah portion, opposing antisemitism, supporting Israel, explaining the meaning of life…and: “One Two Three Mazel-Tov”; receiving the keys to the City of Ottawa from the Mayor; every November 11th at 10:30 a.m., parking a car at our office (licence plate: “Zei Gezunt”), and giving candy to our receptionist; November 11th , at the 11th hour, every year, at the War Memorial (“thank you Veterans”); receiving the Order of Canada from the Governor General; Bill S223 of the House of Commons … an Act respecting Kindness Week.

And … Rabbi Bulka and Leah gracing Gail and me, and our daughter, Jodie, by their presence, officiating at our granddaughter, Jordana’s, Bat Mitzvah, at Robinson’s Arch, at the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, in August, 2011. And … a sense of humour. Having a community dispute with the Chevra Kadisha, I asked Rabbi Bulka if the Chevra can refuse to bury me. The rabbi’s response: “In your case, Stephen, they will be happy to.”

Rabbi Bulka was always there when we needed him. He was our confidant, our mentor … and our friend. And, yes, he was my friend. Mostly every Friday, and I mean mostly every Friday, for over 35 years, we spoke on the telephone, wherever either of us were in the world. We brought each other up to date regarding our families, discussed hockey and football scores, the community, Jewish/Israeli and world affairs, and our joint ventures. And, we always ended our conversation with a “Good Shabbos to you and your family.”

Rabbi Bulka was a great man and a heroic Jew. He walked with Kings, but never lost the common touch. He touched all our lives. He will always be with us.

May his memory be for a blessing.