Nation’s First Asian American Rabbi Inspires Social Change

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Media Archive, Religion, United States, Women on 2013-01-11 04:24Z by Steven

Nation’s First Asian American Rabbi Inspires Social Change

KoreAm: The Korean American Experience

Rebecca U. Cho

Unorthodox Rabbi

As a child, Angela Buchdahl stood out as the lone Asian face in the synagogue and at Jewish camps. Today, she holds the distinction of being the nation’s first Asian American rabbi and is helping to redefine what it means to be Jewish.

On Friday nights at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue, a crowd of 600 gathers for service, voices unifying in centuries-old songs of worship. Leading the attendees in fluent Hebrew, her passion-laden voice soaring to the tops of the temple, is Korean American Angela Buchdahl.
A decade ago, Buchdahl shook up the ranks of Jewish leadership in the U.S. by becoming the country’s first Asian American rabbi. She is “emblematic of the changing face of Judaism,” declared an article in Newsweek, which named the biracial 39-year-old to its 2011 list of 50 Most Influential Rabbis. Not only is she helping to redefine what it means to be Jewish, she is at the forefront of a movement among Reform Jews to inspire social change and push for greater involvement in community organizing.
Her leadership and vision seem to have connected with Jews around the world. Since her arrival five years ago to the prominent New York synagogue as cantor, or song leader, attendance on Friday nights has doubled. Thousands more worldwide recently listened in on a live web stream of services for the High Holy Days

…The need to connect to a Jewish community is close to Buchdahl’ s heart. Born Angela Lee Warnick to a Korean Buddhist mother and a Jewish American father, she spent much of her childhood with a perpetual sense of being “the only one.”
Buchdahl’ s parents met and married in South Korea, where her father had been visiting as a civil engineer in the ROTC program and her mother was studying English literature at Yonsei University. After the family relocated to the U.S. when Buchdahl was 5 years old, she and her sister grew up as the lone Jewish kids in a large Korean American community in Tacoma, Wash. At the same time, in the synagogue and Jewish camps, she stood out as the only Asian face.
“My ‘Koreanness’ wasn’t anything I could escape because it was on my face,” says Buchdahl. Her younger sister, on the other hand, was often mistaken for being Hispanic…

…She sees her bicultural heritage reflected in the diverse Jewish community in New York and at Central Synagogue, which counts at least a dozen Asian-Jewish families. Racial diversity has been on the upswing, with about 20 percent of the 6.1 million Jews in America being of African, Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern or mixed-race descent, compared to prior estimates of 10 to 14 percent, according to a 2005 book by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research…

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