Women’s History Month: Unique Rabbi-Cantor Follows Her Own Melody

As NY1 continues its coverage of Women’s history, the station covers a Manhattan woman who is making history in more than one way in her religious faith. Borough reporter Rebecca Spitz filed the following report.

Singing in Hebrew is second nature for Angela Warnick Buchdahl. This summer will mark her fifth year as the senior cantor at Central Synagogue on the East Side. It is a long way from home for this daughter of a Jewish-American father and Korean Buddhist mother.

Born in Korea, Buchdahl was raised in Tacoma, Wash. as part of a small but tight Jewish community.

“My sister and I we would joke that in our community people thought that Jews looked like us, because we were the representatives and we were the Jews that they knew,” she says.

A teen trip to Israel created a yearning in Buchdahl to study judaism. She ultimately left the West Coast for Yale, where she majored in religious studies.

Buchdahl continued her religious pursuits and is now both a cantor and a rabbi, the first Asian-American woman in the country to do that.

“Usually in the Jewish community, you become one or the other, and I think because I had rabbinic role models growing up, I really wanted to become a rabbi,” says Buchdahl. “I grew up without a cantor, so I didn’t really know what a cantor did when I was growing up. But music was a very big part of how I connected to my Jewishness.”

The ethnically diverse rabbi and cantor finds an equally integrated congregation before her.

“I think that for them to be able to grow up in a community in which they see themselves represented in many different ways, not just in the community but in the leadership of the Jewish community, I think has an impact and helps them say that there are no barriers to be had,” says Buchdahl.

Her responsibilities at Central Synagogue are wide-ranging, from leading services and counseling to weekly staff meetings, and of course, rehearsals. It is time consuming, she says, but she loves it, and is hoping to set a good example for her congregation and her three children.

“I can’t predict any future rabbis or cantors, but I do hope I’ve shown them that anything they can dream is possible,” says Buchdahl.


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