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Angela Warnick Buchdahl invested as first Asian-American cantor

May 16, 1999

Growing up in Tacoma, Washington, Angela Warnick Buchdahl was both an outsider and an insider in the local Jewish community. Her paternal grandparents were founding members of the local Reform synagogue, but as the daughter of a Korean mother, Angela and her sister were the only biracial Jews they knew. A summer in Israel with the Bronfman Youth Fellowship, where Buchdahl's roommate was an Orthodox Jew, caused her to question her own Jewish identity. Although she briefly considered leaving Judaism, she ultimately decided to make her career in the Jewish community.

After graduating from Yale, Buchdahl enrolled at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where she was invested as a cantor on May 16, 1999. At HUC-JIR's investiture ceremony, Buchdahl became the first Asian American cantor. Just two years later, she made history again with ordination from HUC-JIR, becoming the first Asian American rabbi. Buchdahl served as associate rabbi and cantor at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York, and currently serves as cantor of Central Synagogue in New York City. She has published several articles reflecting on her position as a Korean-American Jew, including one titled "Kimchee on the Seder Plate," which recounts the blending of Korean and Jewish culture in her parents' home. In an interview with Reform Judaism magazine, Buchdahl said that although she does not believe that her Korean heritage defines her rabbinical work, she "might have a role to play in helping to change people's perceptions of who is a rabbi, a cantor, or a Jew."

See also: Jewesses with Attitude: Making History in the Cantorate and the Rabbinate; Living the Legacy Lesson: Exploring my Identity: Kimchee on the Seder Plate.

Sources:http://www.shma.com/june03/Angela.htm;www.centralsynagogue.org; Debbie Slevin, “If Wise Could See Us Now,” Reform Judaism, Fall 2000.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Angela Warnick Buchdahl invested as first Asian-American cantor." (Viewed on April 19, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/may/16/1999/angela-warnick-buchdahl>.