Since becoming University of San Francisco’s rabbi-in-residence in 2019, Rabbi Camille Angel has been busy, whether she’s creating inclusive on-campus spaces, helping to empower students through her classes, officiating Jewish lifecycle events or leading Passover seders.
When Angel’s hiring was announced, it made headlines. A Jesuit Catholic university appointing a rabbi-in-residence was unprecedented, especially when that rabbi is a lesbian and longtime LGBTQ activist. She says credit for her presence on campus is largely due to the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice.
“I was trained and I’m a rabbi to serve Jews, and I do — I led a shiva two nights ago, so I’m definitely still serving Jews,” Angel told J. “But there’s something remarkable for me and totally unexpected about my rabbinate being primarily among non-Jews at this point and that my teaching is primarily with non-Jews.”
According to Angel, there is only one Jewish student in her “Queering Religion” class of 40. The other students represent a mix of religious affiliations, but they gravitate to Angel’s classes and programs because of the inclusive queer community she has cultivated on campus.
“I actually didn’t know much about Judaism and what a rabbi was or what they did,” said Jade Peñafort, a senior sociology major from Redwood City. “But honestly, I love it. I’ve learned from her that in Judaism, some of the core values are just working with other people and for other people and as a community. It’s not just about yourself.”
Angel said it’s important for her to be a visibly Jewish and queer presence on campus — both in and out of the classroom. She regularly wears an embroidered kippah and keeps a rainbow pride flag displayed in her office window. She emphasizes how much real representation and inclusion matter, especially when many students have never interacted with Judaism or Jewish thought or even met a rabbi.
“Students will often ask me, ‘What should I call you? Professor? Doctor? Rabbi?’” Angel said. “I tell them to call me rabbi, because everyone needs a rabbi, and if you didn’t have one before, now you do.”
Angel, who had been lecturing at USF for several years before joining the seven-person University Ministry staff as the on-campus rabbi, places a lot of emphasis on being a positive, identity-affirming spiritual adviser regardless of students’ backgrounds or belief systems. Angel finds that many of her students’ relationships with religion often are complicated by negative experiences due to their sexual orientations or gender identities. But they are also curious and seeking for themselves to figure out whether they want to explore spirituality.
“When I was teaching my first [theology] class, I encountered so many people who’d been really damaged and hurt by religion, or who had chosen not to be associated with religion, because they could see that it hurt people they loved,” said Angel. According to USF, a majority of undergraduate students are unaffiliated with a religion, while others identify as Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, atheist or Protestant. Fewer than half are Catholic….
The above comes from a Feb. 11 story in the Jewish News of Northern California.