What a world when an event months in the making has to be postponed, especially when the confluence of Remembrance Day with what is happening in Israel created an unexpected opportunity to make meaningful connections. For the Ottawa Jewish Community School, it took what was supposed to be a very special event and has amplified it with deeply poignant emotional resonance…
Rabbi Bulka Z”l was a towering figure in Jewish Ottawa, Jewish Canada, and Canada, and his passing left a hole too big for any one person or institution to fill and a legacy too diverse for any one person or institution to carry. As was true for many organizations in Ottawa, Rabbi Bulka played a pivotal role in the life of OJCS (née Hillel Academy). And OJCS, like so many of those organizations has been wrestling with the best way to honour Rabbi Bulka’s legacy – what could or should we do that aligns with Rabbi Bulka’s rabbinate? The answer turned out to be both obvious and powerful.
For Rabbi Bulka, “kindness” was a calling and a way of life. For Rabbi Bulka to promote kindness was as obvious as to not wear a coat regardless of weather – it is just what he did. And it was what he wanted all of us to do and to promote as well. And with that recognition, the rest of it fell into place pretty quickly.
We had already launched what we were calling “mitzvah trips” in our Middle School. This revamping of our Jewish Studies Program in Middle School is predicated on the idea that Torah leads to deeds AND deeds lead to Torah (Kiddushin 40b). Our plan – which is in process – is to create a fully integrated Jewish Studies / Tikkun Olam (Social Justice) program in which the texts our students learn Monday-Thursday gets put into action on Friday, each and every week. Aligned with our school’s core values of “We own our own learning,” and “We are each responsible one to the other,” we are in the process of creating a committee of students, teachers, parents, and community leaders to develop this curriculum which integrates key Jewish values, deep textual learning and practical hands-on projects. For example, during a week (or unit), students in Grade 6 would study on Monday-Thursday texts that describe the ethical treatment of animals and then on Friday go out into the community and volunteer in animal shelters. Students in Grade 7 would study texts that help us understand our responsibility to feed the hungry and then on Friday go out into the community and either feed the hungry, or volunteer in both kosher and community food banks.
We will provide our students with experiences that inspire them to learn and we will help our students make personal connections between what they learn in school and the larger world around them. We want our students (and families) to recognize that part of being human is to make the world a better place, and that doing so requires both learning and doing. In other words, we want to nurture, foster, cultivate and celebrate “kindness”.
Months ago, we approached Rabbi Bulka’s family and after a meaningful set of conversations, we are thrilled to announce they have blessed us with permission to officially name this critical program the Rabbi Bulka Kindness Project. We also approached Kind Canada and we are equally thrilled to announce that the Rabbi Bulka Kindness Project will be funded by Kind Canada. What a blessing for our school and our community to be able to hold up and contribute to the perpetuation of at least one pillar of Rabbi Bulka’s legacy.
When thinking about the best time and way to share this news and to celebrate what it means, we connected yet another dot. Military chaplaincy was a passion of Rabbi Bulka’s and he gave many a Remembrance Day address. We reached out to Beechwood Cemetery and they immediately offered not only to host our school, but out of recognition for Rabbi Bulka’s contribution to Canada’s military, agreed to dedicate a Vimy Oak in his memory.
And that is why the Middle School of the Ottawa Jewish Community School was supposed to be at Beechwood Cemetery on Thursday. We were supposed to spend a powerful morning commemorating Remembrance Day, dedicating a Vimy Oak, learning more about the remarkable life and legacy of Rabbi Bulka from Rabbi Scher of Congregation Machzikei Hadas, and announcing the Rabbi Bulka Kindness Project. All of this was planned before the horrific events of October 7th, but instead of casting a shadow, we wanted to let Rabbi Bulka’s memory and words shine a light. As part of the ceremony, students were going to read aloud from Rabbi Bulka’s last Remembrance Day addresses in 2020. His words were powerful then; now, with all that is going on in Israel and the ripple effects here at home, they are more important than ever.
Sadly, the event itself is now delayed. We look forward to doing it safely and proudly when the world calms down enough to allow for it. We could have delayed this announcement as well. But this is a really good thing. And our school and our community can use all the good things we can get right now. And so we share.
Thanks to the Rabbi Bulka Kindness Project @ OJCS, Rabbi Bulka and his legacy of Kindness will now be forever front and center at the Ottawa Jewish Community School. Ken y’hi ratzon.