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Bulka, one of the city’s most beloved clerics, was born on D-Day, June 6, 1944, in England but spent his childhood in the Bronx, where his father Jacob was a rabbi. The elder Bulka was struck with a serious heart attack when Reuven was 16, leading the teenager to begin helping with rabbinical duties.

He was now “in the stream,” one he never left.

He credits a freshly-grown goatee with helping him land a job at Ottawa’s Machzikei Hadas synagogue in 1967, a position he held until retirement in 2015 and where he stayed on as Rabbi Emeritus. During that period, he became something of a household name from a television and radio program, a weekly column in the Ottawa Citizen and frequent appearances at joint-faith services.

The matter of death and illness has never been far away, professionally and personally. Bulka lost his first wife Naomi to cancer in May 2001 and the couple had an infant child pass from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Then his parents died in the same month, March 2006.

Now comes the threat to his own mortality.

“In an ironic way, it’s actually made it a lot easier,” he said, saying the only way to offer meaningful advice to a grieving person is to be authentic about the message.

“So, a long time ago, I already confronted this and said, ‘Look, nobody lives forever, it’s going to happen to everyone’, and you can’t tell someone else anything that you’re not prepared to live by.

“You can’t take life for granted. You have to treat every moment and every opportunity as precious, otherwise what you’re doing is preaching empty words.”

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