OTTAWA -- When your name is synonymous with kindness, you know you are living a good life.

But those with the most giving and generous hearts are not impervious to cancer.

Ottawa’s Rabbi Reuven Bulka learned just seven days ago that he is facing a battle with pancreatic and liver cancer, considered “advanced”.

The beloved spiritual leader, who has spent more than five decades helping others through their life and health challenges, will now be the recipient of their prayers.

“Rabbi Bulka is always there for every single one of us and now it’s our turn to be there for him in the power of prayer,” says Rabbi Idan Scher, who has led Congregation Machzikei Hadas since Rabbi Bulka’s retirement six years ago.

Rabbi Bulka remains as Rabbi Emeritus. 

“He believes profoundly in the power of prayer. That the very concept of thousands, tens of thousands, of people all over the world coming together united as a community is another very important concept by Rabbi Bulka,” says Rabbi Scher.

“Prayer will sustain him and give him strength and bring him comfort. That is the  passion we all need to be sending his way at this moment.”

An inter-faith day of prayer is set for Monday, Jan. 18.

“It’s actually just been complete inundation of well wishes and heartbreak. It is of a bittersweet nature too because of the thousands, hundreds of thousands, of people we’re hearing from about how Rabbi Bulka has touched, and continues to touch, their lives in such a profound way.”  

Jeff Turner, Senior Manager, Indigenous Partnership and Special Projects at Algonquin College,  has known Rabbi Bulka for more than 30 years.

“Rabbi Bulka personifies kindness and compassion,” he says. “He would be so buoyed by all of the outreach, and the prayer session. I’ve been reaching out to people across the country and hearing from people about what can we do: prayer will be so welcome.”

Turner first met Rabbi Bulka about 35 years ago during a friend’s wedding at Rabbi Bulka’s synagogue.

“I was the only Catholic in the wedding party.”

Years later, through Turner’s work at United Way, he worked with Rabbi Bulka to establish a “Kindness Week”. 

“The goal was to encourage kindness and it was always his dream to take it to another level,” says Turner.

Turner worked with Rabbi Bulka to realize that dream by establishing, “Kind Canada Généreux”, a national not-for-profit organization that promotes and encourages all Canadians to help create a pervasive culture of kindness from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

The website echoes how Rabbi Bulka lives.

“We know that kindness can transform lives and is effective in improving mental health and well-being. We are committed to being a strong national voice for kindness, and to working hand-in-hand with others to bring the power of kindness to homes, communities, schools and workplaces across Canada.”

Turner says, Rabbi Bulka wants Canada to be known as the kindest country in the world.

And at Ottawa’s International Airport, Turner reminisces about watching a classic Rabbi Bulka kindness moment play out.

Rabbi Bulka, who is renowned for always sharing snacks and sweet treats, was with other faith leaders, greeting arriving passengers, as part of Kindness Week. 

“In this instance, he is at the bottom of the escalator with Hershey’s kisses and offering everyone who came off the escalator a kiss,” a smiling Turner recalls.

The sweet memory is a contrast to the harsh news Rabbi received last Thursday; news he shared with Congregation Machzikei Hadas in a letter.

“Without getting into unnecessary detail, they found advanced cancer in the pancreas and liver. Needless to say, it came as a shock,” wrote Rabbi Bulka.

“I have waited till now to share this with you as I wanted to do this only after meeting the oncology doctor to get the full picture.”

“That meeting took place this past Thursday. I am writing to you all after Shabbat to share this with you if for no other reason than to head off wild speculation and also to be up front.”

“It is obvious that in these circumstances some painful decisions have to be made.”

“In the face of what can be called an enormous struggle, I have decided to be with my dear family in New York.”

“They have set into motion the steps for appropriate medical intervention, starting with the remarkable crew at the Ottawa Hospital.”

Rabbi Bulka arrived in New York on Tuesday.  He is with his large family there, including his wife, Leah, who he hadn’t been able to see for more than ten months, due to the international travel restrictions.

And there, with his family, he will feel the love of his extended family in Ottawa and across the world, as evidenced in a Tweet that stood out for Rabbi Scher 

“So many people call Rabbi Bulka their Rabbi and not one of those people are Jewish.”

“It wasn’t even ambitious for us to call our prayer rally a world wide prayer rally for Rabbi Bulka because certainly his impact, we get to lay a bit of claim, a bit of ownership in Ottawa, but his impact reverberates throughout the world and continues to do so.”

After years of sharing of himself on radio, TV, through his many books, and news articles, everyone feels a connection to Rabbi Bulka.

On a national stage, he always set the most thoughtful tone at the cenotaph during Remembrance Day ceremonies, year after year.

Rabbi Bulka has always been there to support others when they needed an ear, or just a smile.

With the most incredible intuition, Rabbi Bulka would leave an uplifting voicemail, connecting for just a moment to let you know you were in his thoughts.

And his thoughts played out in thoughtfulness.  

I asked friend and talented CTV editor Don MacLean if he would edit together video of Rabbi for a News at Noon tribute and I asked, “Do you know Rabbi?”

MacLean answered, “Of course I know Rabbi. He always brings cookies to everyone working the weekend night shift.”

Rabbi Bulka sees people. And makes life more delicious.

I first met Rabbi Reuven Bulka as a young reporter about three decades ago; his warmth and genuine interest in people, instantly obvious. 

Rabbi Bulka lights up a room and warms the hearts of everyone in it.

He has been a part of the ordinary moments, and a voice of compassion on our airwaves. His simple gestures brighten days.  His poise and presence amplify the milestones. 

CTV Ottawa Anchor Patricia Boal fondly remembers Rabbi Bulka’s arrival just after a “special arrival”.

“Almost everyone in Ottawa has a connection to Rabbi Bulka.  He was the first visitor to my hospital room when my first daughter (Lindsay) was born.  We wish him the very best.”

We all do.

For this special a man who has spent a lifetime paying it forward, we can pay it back in prayer. 

The “Worldwide Prayer Rally for Rabbi Bulka is Monday, January 18th, 7:30 p.m. EST.