Every Friday, we choose an alum who has been making headlines—for better or for worse.
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Angela Buchdahl ’94: A rabbi with Seoul.

At her Passover seder Friday night, Angela Buchdahl ’94 will be commanded—like other Jews around the world—to feel as though she personally came out of Egypt. Unlike most other Jews, Buchdahl will also know that she personally came out of somewhere very different: South Korea.

Born in Seoul to a Korean Buddhist mother and a Jewish American father, Buchdahl moved at age 5 to Tacoma, Washington, where she and her sister were the “only ones with Asian faces” in their Reform Jewish community, she writes. In 1999, she became the first Asian American cantor—a distinction she repeated two years later, when she was ordained as the first Asian American rabbi.

This week, just in time for Passover, Buchdahl lands on Newsweek and the Daily Beast’s list of the “Top 50 Rabbis for 2012.” The senior cantor at Manhattan’s cathedral-like Central Synagogue, she is also the first woman to be ordained as both rabbi and cantor, according to the Daily Beast.

The Hebrew word for Egypt means “narrow places,” and Buchdahl’s Jewish journey had its share. The Jewish child of an interfaith, interracial marriage, she majored in religious studies at Yale but struggled with “internal questions of authenticity,” she writes in an essay called “Kimchee on the Seder Plate.” “After a painful summer of feeling marginalized and invisible in Israel, I called my mother to declare that I no longer wanted to be a Jew. I did not look Jewish, I did not carry a Jewish name, and I no longer wanted the heavy burden of having to explain and prove myself every time I entered a new Jewish community. She simply responded by saying, ‘Is that possible?’ It was only at that moment that I realized I could no sooner stop being a Jew than I could stop being Korean, or female, or me.”

The Top 50 Rabbis list is, by definition, the product of a Jewish cabal. There may also be a Yalie cabal at work: the authors include Raphael Magarik ’10 and Abby Pogrebin ’87. Pogrebin also just happens to be a trustee at Buchdahl’s Central Synagogue, where one of the associate rabbis is Michael Friedman ’99. At least one of the other top 50 has a Yale connection: Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, a former Yale Hillel rabbi who is now dean of a rabbinical college in Boston. Perhaps they all belong to the Order of Skull and Shankbones.

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