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"As “Canada’s Rabbi,” Rabbi Bulka inspired Jewish Canadians and people across the country to live with optimism, humility, and devotion to kindness. And thanks to his tireless efforts, Canada was the first country to create a National Kindness Week. May his memory be a blessing."

- The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Rabbi Bulka Legacy Project

Renderings of Future "Rabbi Bulka Sanctuary" at Machzikei Hadas (for illustrative purposes only).

Letter from Rabbi Bulka's Children

Dear Friends, 

With all our hearts and soul we thank you for your outpouring of support since the passing of our dear father. We know that just as he impacted and inspired us so deeply, he did the same for so many of you, and we all miss him dearly. 

When we think of the legacy of our father, there are two pillars that come to mind: spiritual leadership and kindness.

Over the past weeks we have heard from thousands of individuals of all faiths, backgrounds, and political outlooks who have shared how “my Rabbi” touched them and was there for them in good times and bad times. Our father was a truly unifying force across Ottawa and Canada and this is what we would like to perpetuate.

The Rabbi Bulka Legacy Project has been established to continue the work of our father in community building and spreading kindness. The centre for our father’s work has always been the synagogue - Congregation Machzikei Hadas. When our father moved to Ottawa with our mother in 1967, he took over a small synagogue downtown on Murray Street. Under our father’s leadership, within four years the synagogue broke ground on its current large building in Alta Vista. 

Ever since then, Machzikei Hadas has served as a gathering place for not only the Jewish community, but for the entire City of Ottawa to come together.

Over the past 50 years the synagogue has been a hub for heartfelt prayer, spiritual development and the engendering of rich Jewish values, especially that of kindness and embodied in initiatives like blood clinics, food bank and winter coat drives, and countless charity events. It also was the venue to hear the most important acclaimed speakers and to bring human beings of all stripes together in heartfelt unison - bringing the entire community together for the most important causes.

We have heard so many times about the now famous rally against hate that was organized and hosted by Machzikei Hadas back in 2017.

The synagogue was packed to the brim with over 1,000 people. At one point during the rally our father called up all of the faith leaders in attendance to come up to the bimah (the ritual stage in the synagogue). Faith leaders representing over fifty faith groups in Ottawa heeded our father’s invitation and in an unforgettable site, they recited  a prayer for peace and community in unison, a prayer written by our dear father.  It was at that rally that our father proclaimed  those now famous words, “Welcome to the Real Ottawa,” to a standing ovation that just didn’t want to stop. 

That is our father’s legacy and that is what his beloved synagogue is all about. It is this that our father wanted to ensure would continue for generations to come and it is all of the elements of this story that make up the Rabbi Bulka Legacy Project.

As the synagogue building centre is approaching 50 years, there are some upgrades and modernizations that are needed to continue this work under the leadership of his successor, Rabbi Idan Scher; including those very meeting spaces that have brought our community together over the past half century. 

One of the most meaningful aspects of this project will be renovating and naming the main sanctuary “The Rabbi Bulka Sanctuary”. Our father was a man of great humility but the naming of the most sacred and cherished place in the world to our father, brought our father so much pride when the synagogue shared this news with him before he passed away. It has brought our family such joy and comfort when we most needed it.

Our father always treated the children of the community like his own. He believed strongly in the children being our future and invested so much time and energy into being there for them, educating them, and inspiring them. The children of the community loved him like a grandfather. Over the past years our father would tell everyone with such joy how there are so many children coming into the synagogue. Our father believed that the synagogue needed a proper youth wing that could accommodate children throughout the city to come learn and grow and become inspired to spread the Jewish values of goodness and kindness that meant so very much to him. A second part of the Rabbi Bulka Legacy Project is the creation of a youth wing at Congregation Machzikei Hadas.

Prayer meant the world to our dear father. He had a higher understanding of what prayer was all about. Of course, he saw it as a way to connect to the Divine. Moreover, he saw each prayer as a call to action, a call to help our fellow brothers and sisters,  God’s children. Our father always wanted to publish a siddur that would be user-friendly for his beloved congregants and make their prayer a more rich and meaningful experience and we thank  Rabbi Scher for making this possible. Our father and Rabbi Scher have been working on this project for the months after our father received his diagnosis. Even days before his passing, our father made clear how important it was to bring this project to completion. We are thrilled to share that the Rabbi Bulka Edition of the Jewish prayer book will become a reality over the next year.

As many of you know, over the years our father built a large library, most of which was housed in his office in the basement of our home on Featherston Drive. The library includes an unparalleled, comprehensive collection of Jewish volumes and a very respectable collection of volumes in the area relating to psychology. It was always our father’s goal that his library continue to be preserved and used for generations to come. Our father was thrilled when he was told of the synagogue’s plans to house his library in the synagogue so that the entire community could benefit from the collection.

In addition, the synagogue is planning to create a “Rabbi Bulka Kindness Day” in Ottawa to take place next year during the recently established National Kindness Week in Canada. We have already heard from a number of community groups who have shared their desire to take part in what promises to be a very special day in Ottawa that will hopefully inspire all of Canada and the world.

This legacy project has been worked on for thousands of hours. We take this opportunity to thank Bram Bregman and Ron Prehogan who have been inspired by our father’s vision and have given so much of their time and energy as Co-Chairs of the Rabbi Bulka Legacy Project.

We thank the entire congregation and the wonderful synagogue administration for all their hard and continued efforts in making this project a reality. A special thank you to Rabbi Scher. Rabbi Scher had a special and unique relationship with our father. Even renowned Rabbis who have themselves been a part of a rabbinical transition have remarked about the unique nature of this relationship. On a more personal note, Rabbi Scher has been there for us during the difficult months since our father’s diagnosis. As these projects have been developed, Rabbi Scher has shown incredible sensitivity, making sure that our father and his entire family are integral part of the planning and development of these projects.

Our father was thrilled to receive the email shortly before his passing, announcing the long term commitment the synagogue made to Rabbi Scher. We know that the future of the synagogue that inspired our father for over 50 years is in good hands for many more years. 

We all thank you for supporting this vital project that we believe will continue the principles that our father lived by to serve the entire City of Ottawa. 

Respectfully yours,

Rabbi Bulka’s Children

Letter from the Co-Chairs of the Rabbi Bulka Legacy Project

Dear Friends:

It is still difficult for us on a daily basis to think that Rabbi Bulka is no longer with us. We are struggling, like so many of you, to think that Rabbi Bulka will not be here to guide us, comfort us, and show us how to live a meaningful life. 

Our overwhelming emotion at this time, besides sadness and disbelief, is one of intense gratitude. We are grateful that Rabbi Bulka chose Ottawa to launch his career 54 years ago, and continued to live here long after his entire family had moved away and his successor was appointed. We are grateful for the enormous ongoing contributions he made to the synagogue and to so many important causes in Ottawa, in Ontario, in Canada and around the world.  We are grateful for him always having been here for us and showing the way through good times and bad.  We are grateful for his brilliant teachings and wisdom, and providing us with the framework to lead a meaningful life. We are grateful for the way he did it all with his unique style of warmth, loving-kindness, and good humour. 

We are also grateful for the decision made several years ago by Congregation Machzikei Hadas to hire Rabbi Scher as Rabbi Bulka’s successor. Having Rabbi Scher here with us at a time like this, and knowing that he is here to stay, fills us and many others with a profound sense of comfort and hope for the future of our community. While no one will ever be able to replace Rabbi Bulka, we have little doubt that Rabbi Scher will carve out his own path to great success, and for that we are also extremely grateful.

So what to do with all this gratitude? For us, the answer is to do whatever we can to give Rabbi Scher and the synagogue the tools they need to build on the foundation of success laid by Rabbi Bulka – not just for the synagogue but for the entire community which is seemingly and amazingly every bit as important to Rabbi Scher as it was for Rabbi Bulka! That kind of leadership is exceedingly rare and is what makes the difference between a community that thrives and one that does not. 

The Rabbi Bulka Legacy Project had its roots in a project we were asked to co-chair a few years ago commemorating the 100th anniversary of the synagogue and Rabbi Bulka’s 50 years of dedicated leadership. Working alongside Rabbi Bulka, Rabbi Scher, and a few synagogue members, we challenged ourselves in a methodical way over a lengthy period of time to determine the exact needs of the synagogue for the next 50 years and hired architects and designers to design and cost out the project.

The project included the renaming of the park next door to the synagogue as The Rabbi Bulka Kindness Park, which was dedicated by the City of Ottawa at a ceremony at the synagogue in October 2019 attended by many politicians, faith leaders, and members of the community at-large. 

When COVID hit, we put the project on hold. After Rabbi Bulka shared his devastating diagnosis, he said that seeing this project through was what would be most meaningful to him. 

Mere weeks before his passing, the Canadian legislature passed a law dedicating the third week of February every year starting in 2022 as National Kindness Week in Canada. This was the culmination of 15 years of Rabbi Bulka’s tireless efforts to develop the concept, and annually lead a Kindness Week initiative in Ottawa, then have it passed into law provincially with Kindness Week in Ontario, and then finally have it passed into law federally with National Kindness Week in Canada. 

There are several components to the Rabbi Bulka Legacy Project:

  • Modernizing the 50-year-old infrastructure of Machzikei Hadas to ensure the building is safe, secure and welcoming to host community-wide events for generations to come.

  • Renovating and dedicating “The Rabbi Bulka Sanctuary” and other gathering spaces at Machzikei Hadas.

  • Creating “The Rabbi Bulka Library” at Machzikei Hadas to house the thousands of books collected and generously donated by Rabbi Bulka, and serve as a reading area, classroom, and meeting room facility.

  • Publishing and purchasing new and modern editions of Jewish prayer books, including the “The Rabbi Bulka Siddur”, which Rabbi Bulka worked on with Rabbi Scher’s help during the last months of Rabbi Bulka’s life.

  • Creating a “Youth Wing” at Machzikei Hadas.

  • Establishing a “Rabbi Bulka Kindness Day” in Ottawa, starting in 2022, to take place annually during National Kindness Week in Canada.

  • Continuing the Rabbi Bulka Kindness Project to reach 1,800 new acts of kindness

Our goal is to reach $3.6 Million Dollars for this project and due to the kindness of some incredibly generous friends of Rabbi Bulka, as of July 28, 2021, we have already reached $3 Million Dollars!

We are already over 80% of the way there and need you to help us reach our communal goal. Please consider making a generous tax-deductible gift on the form below, or feel free to call the Machzikei Hadas office at (613) 521-9700.

Perhaps you see this as we do or perhaps you do not. Perhaps you are a member of the synagogue or perhaps you are not. Perhaps you are Jewish or perhaps you are not. Perhaps you want to give to the cause Rabbi Bulka’s family is asking you to give to because that was quite simply what he wanted. Whomever you are and whatever your motivations, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support as we move forward together as a community to spread the values of Rabbi Bulka for future generations.  

With all our gratitude, 

Bram Bregman & Ron Prehogan
Co-Chairs, Rabbi Bulka Legacy Project