April 19, 2019

An Interview with Angela Buchdahl, America's First Asian Rabbi

“Central Synagogue in midtown Manhattan is historic not only because its building is a recognized landmark and its congregation among the oldest in New York State. In 2013, Central also made history by appointing Angela Warnick Buchdahl – the first Asian-American rabbi and cantor – senior rabbi, after she had served as senior cantor there from 2006. Despite being something of a celebrity in the United States, Buchdahl is hardly recognized in Israel, a fact that also illustrates the growing divide between Israel and the Jewish community in the U.S.

Born in South Korea in 1972, to a Buddhist mother and Jewish father, Buchdahl immigrated to the U.S. with her family at age 5 and was raised as a Jew, attending a Reform synagogue in Washington State. During her first trip to Israel, she encountered challenges to her religious identity and decided to undergo an Orthodox conversion at age 21, to “reaffirm” her Jewishness.

Today, serving as the rabbi of one of New York’s most prestigious Reform synagogues, Buchdahl, who was previously unwilling to perform interfaith marriage ceremonies, now has a policy of opening Central’s doors to anyone who wants to live as a Jew – with or without their undergoing conversion. Rabbi Buchdahl sat down with me to discuss her unique congregation, why she reversed course on performing interfaith marriages, the future of tribalism and ethnicity, as well as the future of Judaism as she sees it.”

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