Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl has been selected to succeed Rabbi Peter Rubinstein as spiritual leader of Manhattan’s Central Synagogue, the congregation’s board announced on Thursday.
Pending approval of the board’s recommendation at a Jan. 7 membership meeting, she would assume the pulpit on July 1. She would be the first woman to lead the 2,100-family Reform congregation in its 174-year history.
“I am honored by the Board’s recommendation to the congregation for its approval next month,” said Rabbi Buchdahl in a statement emailed to The Jewish Week by the synagogue. “Our senior rabbi transition will not occur until July 1, 2014, so I am wholly focused on continuing to serve our community as senior cantor at this time. Beyond that I have no further comment.”
Rabbi Buchdahl has been the congregation’s senior cantor but has also carried out rabbinic duties. Although she will continue to sing during some services, the congregation will search for a new senior cantor.
“This is one of the most prominent congregations in the world, and Rabbi Cantor Angela Buchdal is one of the most remarkable and inspiring religious leaders in our world,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the movement’s congregational arm.
Rabbi Buchdal is the movement’s most prominent leader who is both a rabbi and a cantor, Rabbi Jacobs said in an interview with The Jewish Week. She will join him in leading the Shabbat service at the movement’s Biennial meeting in San Diego, which starts on Dec. 11.
“The Committee and the Board believe wholeheartedly that Rabbi Buchdahl is the right person to lead Central forward,” David B. Edelson, the congregation president, said in a statement posted on the congregation website.
“She believes music is an integral part of how she leads a worship experience,” wrote Edelson. “That said, Rabbi Buchdahl will also work alongside a new senior cantor and Cantor [Julia] Katz to embed music even more deeply into the fabric of Central. In order to select the absolute best person for Senior Cantor, we may be comfortable extending the search we will launch to include candidates who might not start until July 2015.”
She has been featured multiple times in the Newsweek/Daily Beast annual list of 50 Most Influential American Rabbis.
Born in Seoul, South Korea in 1972 to an American-Jewish father and Korean-Buddhist mother, Buchdahl grew up in Tacoma, Wash., and was raised Jewish.
“Her multiple backgrounds can enhance our Jewish life in this contemporary world that we live in,” Rabbi Jacobs said, adding that Rabbi Buchdal grew up in the Reform movement, spending her summers at its summer camps.
Rabbi Rubinstein, in the synagoue’s statement, said he had remained outside the process during the search process, believing it was the “sacred responsibility” of lay leadership.
“Now that the Committee and Board have recommended Rabbi Buchdahl, I can say that I enthusiastically endorse her selection and I joyfully look forward to her becoming Central’s next senior rabbi.”
The change comes as another large, historic Manhattan Reform congregation also changes leaders. Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson will be installed at Temple Emanu-el this Shabbat.
JTA and Helen Chernikoff contributed to this report.