Angela Buchdahl named one of America’s 50 Most Influential Rabbis
“I just live my life as a Jew in the skin I am in. Once people enter my synagogue and hear me chant, the fact that I am Korean begins to melt away.”
Born in Seoul, Korea, Angela Warnick Buchdahl is not only an Ashkenazi Jew, but also the first Asian-American member of the Jewish clergy and the first woman to become both a cantor and a rabbi, completing her studies at Hebrew Union College. Serving since 1999 as the cantor of Central Synagogue in New York, she became Central’s senior rabbi on July 1, 2014.
Growing up, she and her sister were the only Asian faces in the synagogue and Jewish summer camps they attended. Yet she found acceptance there. It was different when she went to Israel in her late teens. Confronted for the first time with challenges to her Jewish identity, she briefly considered not being Jewish anymore. Instead she realized that her Judaism was as much a part of her as her identity as a Korean-American or a woman. “In today’s day and age,” she says, “we are all truly Jews by choice.”
Rabbi Buchdahl has been nationally recognized for her innovations in leading services and has served as faculty for the Wexner Heritage Foundation and for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Kallot programs. She has been actively involved in Just Congregations, the Reform Movement’s congregation-based community organizing effort at Central and on a national level. She serves on the boards of Auburn Theological Seminary and the Multiracial Jewish Network.
“America’s 50 Most Influential Rabbis” was compiled by Newsweek and The Daily Beast and highlights those who personify “the most important roles in Jewish leaders—as selfless listeners, teachers, connectors, and galvanizers, not self-promoting grandstanders or media strategizers.” Buchdahl was in good company on the list, which included 14 women and the current rabbi at Central Synagogue, Peter Rubenstein.
As the Jewish Times noted in its article about her, “To her the fact that she is Jewish, American and Korean is not in conflict with one another, they are merely the parts that make up who she is organically.”
Sources: “Angela W. Buchdahl,” Central Synagogue; “America’s 50 Most Influential Rabbis,” Newsweek and The Daily Beast; “New Rabbi at Manhattan's Central Synagogue 'a Pioneer',” Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2104; “Angela Warnick Buchdahl - The Face of the Modern Jew,” Jewish Times, September 2008.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Angela Buchdahl named one of America’s 50 Most Influential Rabbis." (Viewed on September 17, 2019) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/apr/16/2011/this-week-in-history-angela-buchdahl-named-one-of-america-s-50-most-influential>.