Angela Buchdahl, First Asian-American Rabbi, Vies for Role at Central Synagogue

Rabbi and Cantor Reflects Growing Diversity of Jewry

Pulpit Pioneer: Angela Buchdahl, who is of Korean and Ashkenazi descent symbolizes a new, more diverse Reform Movement.
courtesy of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Pulpit Pioneer: Angela Buchdahl, who is of Korean and Ashkenazi descent symbolizes a new, more diverse Reform Movement.

By Seth Berkman

Published August 12, 2013, issue of August 16, 2013.
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In an email to the Forward, Warnick recalled that his daughter taught elementary school students Jewish songs and music throughout her high school years. Eventually, during her summers off from Yale University, Buchdahl became the head song leader at Camp Swig, a Reform camp in Saratoga, Calif.

In his email, Warnick stressed the many similarities he found between the culture he encountered in Korea and the hometown and Jewish community to which he returned. In both, he wrote, “I saw a similar strength, belief and hope, coupled with a deep appreciation for tradition.” In Asia, he added, “I married a Korean woman, who shared in these strengths.”

Seen from a wide-angle view today, it appears that Buchdahl’s parents were far from atypical. A recent two-year study by sociologists Noah Leavitt and Helen Kim suggests that, overwhelmingly, Asian-Jewish couples today are raising their children as Jews. That compares with the finding of the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey that about “one-third of the children in households where only one of the two spouses is Jewish are being raised Jewish and/or with a Jewish identity.”

Still, Buchdahl has written movingly of her struggle with her identity during her youth notwithstanding the support she received in Tacoma.

“Internal questions of authenticity loomed over my Jewish identity throughout my adolescence into early adulthood, as I sought to integrate my Jewish, Korean, and secular American identities,” Buchdahl wrote in the publication Sh’ma Journal in 2003. Buchdahl said there were times she believed she could never be “fully Jewish.”

She told the Seattle Jewish Transcript that her first transformative Jewish experience came during a Bronfman Youth Fellowship trip to Israel in 1989.

On her trip, she encountered “Jews who didn’t think I was a Jew.” On the streets of Israel, children would yell at her or question her about the meaning of the Star of David necklace she wore.


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