Angela Warnick Buchdahl

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Angela Warnick Buchdahl
Cantor Angela Warnick Buchdahl (8575188810) (cropped).jpg
Buchdahl sings and plays guitar at the Jewish Women's Archive in 2013
Angela Lee Warnick

(1972-07-08) 8 July 1972 (age 48)
Seoul, South Korea
Education- Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York (ordained cantor 1999, ordained rabbi 2001)
- Yale University (BA in Religious Studies, 1994)[1]
Alma materYale University
Known forRabbi, cantor
Spouse(s)Jacob Buchdahl
ChildrenGabriel, Eli, and Rose

Angela Warnick Buchdahl (born Angela Lee Warnick on 8 July 1972) is an American rabbi. She was the first Asian-American to be ordained as a rabbi,[2] and the first Asian-American to be ordained as a hazzan (cantor) anywhere in the world.[3][4][5][6][7] In 2011 she was named by Newsweek and the Daily Beast as one of "America's Most Influential Rabbis,"[8] and in 2012 by the Daily Beast as one of “America’s 50 Most Influential Rabbis.”[9] Buchdahl was recognized as one of the top five in The Forward's 2014 "Forward Fifty", a list of American Jews who have had the most impact on the national scene in the previous year.[10]

Early life[edit]

Buchdahl was born in Seoul, South Korea,[11] to a Japanese-born Korean Buddhist mother, Sulja Yi Warnick, and Frederick David Warnick, an American Ashkenazi Reform Jew, whose ancestors emigrated from Bacău County, Romania, and Russia to the United States.[12][1] Her 20th great-grandfather on her mother's side was King Taejo of Joseon, as she discovered when she was featured in Finding Your Roots, a PBS series hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. She also discovered then that her Jewish Romanian great-grandparents, Saul Hirsh Soss (1871-1946) and Clara Silverstein (1882-1976), came by ship to New York in 1899 and lived a few blocks from the current location of Central Synagogue, where she is now rabbi.[7] Abbey Silverstone is a second cousin of her grandmother. At the age of five, she moved to the United States with her family. She was raised Jewish, attending Temple Beth El in Tacoma, Washington, which her great-grandparents had assisted in founding a century before. Like her mother, she became very involved in temple activities,[13] and became a leader in school and within the youth group. At the age of 16, she visited Israel through Bronfman youth fellowships with other Jewish teenagers from the U.S. and for the first time had the authenticity of her Judaism questioned by those who believe that only the children of a Jewish mother can be Jewish. Her Orthodox roommate told Buchdahl she did not consider her to be Jewish, and Israelis asked if she knew the meaning of the Star of David on her necklace. She notes that her experience in Israel was a painful one, where she felt marginalized and invisible. As a college student, she spent her summers working as head song leader at Camp Swig, a Reform Jewish camp in Saratoga, California. At the age of 21 she underwent a conversion or "giyur", which she views as a "reaffirmation ceremony".[2]

Buchdahl attended Yale University, where she was one of the first female members of Skull and Bones, a secret society which counts former President George W. Bush and United States Secretary of State John Kerry as members.[14]

She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies from Yale University in 1994, where she met her husband Jacob Buchdahl, an attorney and began her cantorial and rabbinic studies at Hebrew Union College.[13][15]


In 1999 she was invested as a cantor and then ordained as a rabbi in 2001[16] by HUC-JIR, an American seminary for Reform Judaism.[17] She became assistant rabbi and cantor at Westchester Reform Temple, which in 2003 had membership of over 1,200 families.[13]

She appears in the PBS documentary 18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre.[18][6]

She joined Central Synagogue, a large Reform congregation in Manhattan, as senior cantor in 2006.[17][16][7] During her tenure as of 2012, Friday night attendance at the synagogue had doubled, post-bar mitzvah retention had tripled and the waiting list for membership had risen to over 300.[7] In 2013, she was named as the Senior Rabbi of the Central Synagogue.[19][20] She is the first woman and the first Asian-American to be their Senior Rabbi.[19][20]

She has served as faculty for the Wexner Heritage Foundation and for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Kallot programs, and on the board of Auburn Theological Seminary, Avodah Jewish Service Corps, UJA Federation, and the Jewish Multiracial Network.[17][16]

On July 1, 2014, Angela Buchdahl succeeded Peter Rubinstein as Senior Rabbi at Central Synagogue, the first woman and first Asian-American to hold the post in the Synagogue's long history, and one of only a few women serving as leaders of a major U.S. synagogue. Central Synagogue has membership of over 7,000, over $30 million in endowment, and approximately 100 full-time employees.[21]

Buchdahl conducts interfaith weddings at Central Synagogue for couples who say they "are committed to creating a Jewish household".[22]

In December 2014 she was welcomed by President Barack Obama to lead the prayers at the White House Hanukkah celebration. At the podium, she commented on how special the scene was, asking the President if he believed America's founding fathers could possibly have pictured that a female Asian-American rabbi would one day be at the White House leading Jewish prayers in front of the African-American president.[23] Her speech on the meaning of Hannukah and religious freedom met with applause and cheers.[24] Writer Abigail Pogrebin, who also served as President of Central Synagogue (where Buchdahl is Senior Rabbi), noted that as Buchdahl "stood alongside the African-American president and led us in the Hebrew blessing over the candles, there was a moving magnificence both in that unlikely tableau and in the sound of a Jewish prayer filling The People's house".[25]

On March 22, 2019, she opened the doors of Central Synagogue to hundreds of worshipers from a nearby mosque ravaged by fire, a kind gesture, which made the national news.[26][27][28]

In December 2019 the Jewish Telegraphic Agency named her among the Jews who defined the 2010s and stated, "The choice of Buchdahl to replace the retiring Rabbi Peter Rubinstein elevated a woman and a Jew of color to a position of virtually unprecedented prominence in the Jewish world and made Buchdahl a potent symbol of the changing face of American Judaism."[29]


  1. ^ a b "Angela Buchdahl", Finding Your Roots—with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., PBS, April 15, 2012
  2. ^ a b Ettinger, Yair (January 14, 2019). "'Judaism Shouldn't Have to Stay Alive Only Because Jews Are Afraid of Everything Else'". Haaretz. Retrieved January 14, 2019.
  3. ^ ""Troublemaker" Women Honored, Receive Ivy | auburn". August 22, 2009. Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved February 9, 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "This Week in History - Angela Warnick Buchdahl invested as first Asian-American cantor". Jewish Women's Archive. May 16, 1999. Retrieved February 9, 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ "Women's History Month: Unique Rabbi-Cantor Follows Her Own Melody". Spectrum News. Archived from the original on January 30, 2013.
  6. ^ a b "Angela Buchdahl". Finding Your Roots. PBS.
  7. ^ a b c d Rahel Musleah. "Profile: Angela Buchdahl". Archived from the original on August 18, 2013. Retrieved 2013-07-14. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Most Influential Rabbis, April 11, 2011
  9. ^ America’s Top 50 Rabbis for 2012, April 2, 2012
  10. ^ "Forward 50 2014: Could This Be the Year of the Jewish Woman?". The Forward. November 6, 2014.
  11. ^ "Cantor Angela Warnick Buchdahl - the face of the modern Jew". Jewish Times Asia. Retrieved February 9, 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ Buchdahl, Angela Warnick, "My Personal Story: Kimchee on the Seder Plate", Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility, Published June 2003. Reprinted March 28, 2012.
  13. ^ a b c Kate Stone Lombardi (July 20, 2003). "RELIGION; Defining Judaism, a Rabbi of Many Firsts". The New York TImes.
  14. ^ Women rabbis who waded into a sea of opposition still fighting the waves article in Times of Israel, 8 December 2016.
  15. ^ "Angela Buchdahl, First Asian-American Rabbi, Vies for Role at Central Synagogue". The Forward. August 12, 2013.
  16. ^ a b c "Our Clergy: Angela W. Buchdahl". Central Synagogue. Retrieved February 9, 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  17. ^ a b c Gabrielle Birkner (July 21, 2010). "The Sisterhood 50". The Forward. Retrieved February 9, 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  18. ^ "18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre".
  19. ^ a b Addam Dickter (December 5, 2013). "Rabbi Angela Buchdahl To Lead Central Synagogue". The Jewish Week. JTA.
  20. ^ a b Hody Nemes (December 5, 2013). "Central Synagogue Names First Asian-American Head Rabbi". The Forward.
  21. ^ Sophia Hollander (January 18, 2014). "New Rabbi at Manhattan's Central Synagogue 'a Pioneer'". The Wall Street Journal.
  22. ^ Judaism Shouldn't Have to Stay Alive Only Because Jews Are Afraid of Everything Else Article in Haaretz, January 14, 2019.
  23. ^ Eisner, Jane (December 18, 2014). "A Most Inspiring Hanukkah at the White House".
  24. ^ "Korean American Rabbi Speaks at the White House Hanukkah Reception".[permanent dead link]
  25. ^ Pogrebin, Abigail (December 23, 2014). "Light in Unexpected Places".
  26. ^ Synagogue opens doors to Muslim worshipers after mosque fire Article in the New York Post
  27. ^ New York Synagogue Opens Doors To Mosque For Friday Prayers After Fire Article in Forward
  28. ^ NY synagogue opens its doors to Muslim worshipers after fire blocks neighboring mosque A story in i24news
  29. ^ The Jews who defined the 2010s JTA article

Further reading[edit]