On the national Jewish scene, Rabbi Angela W. Buchdahl is known as a pioneer and trailblazer.
She bears the distinction of being the nation’s first ordained Asian-American rabbi and cantor, as well as the first woman to lead Manhattan’s prominent Central Synagogue in its 175-year history. Newsweek magazine listed the 47-year-old Seoul native — who was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion — as one of “America’s 50 Most Influential Rabbis.”
But she likes to joke that she’s also known as “the other Rabbi Buchdahl,” a tip of the kippah to her cousin-through-marriage, Rabbi Gustav Buchdahl, a well-known figure in local Jewish circles for decades and Temple Emanuel emeritus rabbi at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl will serve as the keynote speaker next Tuesday, Sept. 10, at the inaugural Shoshana S. Cardin Leadership Symposium. The gathering will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Woodholme Country Club in Pikesville and honors the memory and legacy of the internationally known Jewish community leader, who passed away in 2018.
The symposium is presented by ACHARAI: The Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish Leadership Institute through the Center for Leadership, a new community-wide initiative of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.
Jmore recently spoke with Rabbi Buchdahl, who grew up in Tacoma, Washington, and now lives in New York City with her husband, Jacob, and their three children, Gabriel, Eli and Rose.
Jmore: Did you know Mrs. Cardin personally?
Rabbi Buchdahl: No, unfortunately I didn’t really get to know her personally, but I do know her son, Sandy. It’s such a wonderful honor to be connected to her legacy and to share her values and beliefs. I feel very honored.
What do you plan to speak about at the symposium?
I want to speak about bridging the communities across the denominations and diverse viewpoints. Judaism gives us a blueprint to have conversations and to discuss our disagreements in a civil way. I feel this is a cultural method that our country could really use right now.
We are one people but we come from many different backgrounds, and we need each other more than ever.
What do you consider to be the most pressing issue in Jewish life today?
[Long pause] I think it would have to be apathy and not knowing the rich inheritance that we all have. This goes across all of the ages.
How do we get young people turned on to Judaism and Jewish life today?
I think we have to introduce young people in a serious way to the traditions and the questions posed to us [by Judaism], and get them excited about the spiritual technologies of our faith and traditions.
What do you mean by ‘spiritual technologies’?
I’m talking about the way that our holidays and life cycle rituals are set up in a way to strengthen family and community, and make real the values and traditions that we have. For instance, the Passover seder can have a transformative power on people. This is what our tradition provides and helps us build on.
In a Jewish community that’s becoming increasingly diverse, do you consider yourself a trailblazer of sorts?
I certainly didn’t set out to do that or be that, but I do recognize that when I share my story, I change perceptions of who the Jewish community is. I didn’t choose that, but this is who I am and I’m proud of who I am and where I came from.
Do you ever get tired of people asking you what it’s like to be the first ordained Asian-American rabbi?
[Laughs] Well, it all depends on who’s asking the question and how they ask it.
When you’re here for the symposium, will you get a chance to tour Baltimore?
No, unfortunately I won’t get a chance to see much. I’m coming in early and leaving in the evening. I’m a congregational rabbi and it’s only two weeks before the [High Holidays], so it’s a very busy time for me. I only said yes [to speak at the symposium] because of the legacy of Shoshana Cardin and because of my relationship with Sandy. I’d like to come back sometime.
Anything else you would like to convey to attendees of the symposium?
Just that I am thrilled to come and excited to be there. It’s a real honor.
For information, visit https://www.associated.org/leadershipsymposium