Angela’s father is an Ashkenazi Reform Jew and her mother is a Korean Buddhist. When she was 14, she became the music teacher for her congregation in Tacoma. While she always felt welcome at her synagogue, people often told her that she didn’t “look Jewish.” As she got older, Angela struggled with looking different from other Jews and having different cultural influences. She remembers one Passover when her mother put kimchee, a Korean dish of pickled vegetables, on the seder plate instead of bitter herbs. She felt like her family would never be a “normal Jewish family.”
Angela eventually realized that lots of people struggle with being different. Instead of giving up on Judaism, she decided to try and weave her Jewish, American, and Korean backgrounds together. After attending Yale College, Angela studied to be a religious leader at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion. She first became a cantor and then a rabbi. She now serves as Senior Cantor at Central Synagogue in New York City and writes articles about her experiences as an Asian-American Jew.
In 1999, Angela became the first Asian-American Jew to become invested as a cantor. Two years later, she made history again when she became the first Asian-American rabbi. Her ordination helped Jewish communities in the United States and around the world learn to value their increasing diversity.
Angela doesn’t think that being Korean-American is the most important thing about her role as a rabbi, but she is glad that she can help change people's definition of what it means to “be” or “look” Jewish.