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Angela Warnick Buchdahl is 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 Senior Rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York City, where she was previously a cantor. 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."

Sources: “Kimchee on the Seder Plate,” Sh’ma; Central Synagogue; Debbie Slevin, “If Wise Could See Us Now,” Reform Judaism, Fall 2000.

2 Comments

First time.

This is my time observing this feast day on station JBS. I am a 69 year old Black woman and thoroughly enjoyed the worship service. Everything! I believe in both the Old and the New Testaments and raised my children in observing the Feast Days of the LORD. You can imagine how out of place my children and I felt not observing Halloween,Christmas and the secular new year. Keeping Passover and cleaning my house from top to bottom ,getting all the leven out the house! Not being connected to a Synagogue may it difficult. I do not do as I use to. I've gotten older, I'm recently retired and belong to a Pentecostal Church. But still remember the Feast Days. I know /hey are right. GOD bless you all for the services that you render. And now I can sit in my home and partake of the service. I wish I had this back in the 70's and 80's. Just wanted you to know.

Rabbi Cantor Angela Warnick Buchdahl
Full image
Rabbi Cantor Angela Warnick Buchdahl at JWA's 2013 annual "Making Trouble / Making History" luncheon.
Photo by Jordyn Rozensky

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Angela Warnick Buchdahl is invested as first Asian-American cantor." (Viewed on November 18, 2018) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/may/16/1999/angela-warnick-buchdahl>.

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