Rabbi Camille Shira Angel has been a presence at USF for years. (Photo/Courtesy Angel)
Rabbi Camille Shira Angel has been a presence at USF for years. (Photo/Courtesy Angel)

Lesbian rabbi is Catholic University of San Francisco’s first rabbi-in-residence

“Let me be your rabbi!” declares Camille Shira Angel, the first rabbi-in-residence at the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit Catholic institution, where she has been a longtime adjunct professor in the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice.

In August, Angel will assume her new position with the Swig Program and University Ministry, officiating at Jewish lifecycle events and offering spiritual support to Jewish and non-Jewish students alike.

The ministry is USF’s religious resource center and makes nondenominational prayer rooms and mentorship opportunities available to students.

The ministry’s director, Julie Dowd, said the residency was designed for Angel, who has been teaching an ethics course called “Queering Religion” for several years. The class covers the history of interaction between religious and LGBTQ communities.

Angel is a ninth-generation rabbi from Los Angeles known for blending Jewish spirituality and progressive activism. She is the former spiritual leader of LGBTQ Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco.

Angel told J. she is committed to creating a welcoming environment for all, regardless of faith or sexuality.

With her role at USF, “I have fallen in love with Judaism all over again. I have the opportunity to share its genius, creativity and ability to adapt and be strategic,” Angel says. “I also get to show my students how we ask the hardest questions about issues where the tradition doesn’t fit and how we authentically respond with our values.”

USF is Jesuit, an order of Catholicism rooted in St. Ignatius’ values of common good and service to the poor, but there is a diversity of religious beliefs on campus.

Angel seeks to “bring an intergenerational gift” of LGBTQ Jewish knowledge into the classroom and ministry.

“I feel that my congregation is without walls. Everyone needs a rabbi, and you don’t have to be Jewish.”

Angel said she hopes her position at a Jesuit university will shift perceptions about who represents and tells the story of Judaism.

Everyone needs a rabbi, and you don’t have to be Jewish.

“Some of my students have never met a Jew. Most have never met a woman who is a religious authority figure, [let alone] a lesbian who is teaching a class about it and making it a verb,” Angel said about “Queering Religion.”

Colleagues noted that Angel exudes a spirit of inclusivity and equity, as shown in her years of Jewish teaching and LGBTQ advocacy.

Aaron J. Hahn Tapper, chair of USF’s Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice, and a longtime friend of Angel’s, strongly advocated for her appointment. He said Angel is a prominent voice for Jewish pluralism.

“I have seen her work tirelessly in supporting USF students no matter their identities. She is a rabbi for the people, not for Jews only,” Hahn Tapper said in an email.

Angel’s impact has also been felt among the USF’s Catholic faculty.

Dowd recalled when Angel educated her and other Catholic staff about the conflation of the word “Pharisees” with words like hypocrite or deceiver.

“When you say Pharisee, one usually thinks Jew. She said Pharisee is a rabbinical line, and we had a wonderful conversation about that. We need to be careful about language and how Christianity can come across with anti-Semitic themes.”

Father Donal Godfrey, the associate director for faculty and staff spirituality at USF, said Angel helped him explore LGBTQ activism through a Catholic lens, and vice-versa.

“I learned from Rabbi Angel that I should continue to speak up and own this struggle within my own faith tradition as a Catholic priest,” Godfrey wrote in an email. “Rabbi Angel inspires me to be the best Catholic I can possibly be!”

Camille said she looks forward to showing students how Judaism can be a catalyst for spiritual healing and social progress.

“We all need support in persisting in the good fight,” Angel said. “We need to bring together these sparks of light that have gone too far away.”

Tova Ricardo
Tova Ricardo

Tova Ricardo is a student at Columbia University and the former youth poet laureate of Oakland. She was J.'s 2019 summer intern.