Ezra Buchdahl has a family history of tikkun olam

Ezra Buchdahl and Carmen the yellow lab
Ezra Buchdahl and Carmen the yellow lab (Courtesy of Ezra Buchdahl)

Ezra Buchdahl received the 2022 Alumni of the Year Award from his alma mater, the University of Maryland School of Social Work, earlier this year.

The award honors a graduate who is “making an outstanding professional contribution to the larger community, as well as to the field of social work. The honoree, whose achievements are well-known, exemplifies the best professional social work values, and regularly demonstrates leadership and innovation.”

Buchdahl has worked with Catholic Charities of Baltimore — a leading nonprofit, social services organization in Maryland — for more than 33 years. There, he is currently the administrator of St. Vincent’s Villa, Villa Maria School and the Adoptions Program.

The 56-year-old Cockeysville resident grew up in Randallstown and attends Baltimore Hebrew Congregation with his wife, Shelley Manner, and his parents. In fact, his father, Rabbi Gustav Buchdahl, is rabbi emeritus at BHC.

Buchdahl received his B.A. from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and his M.S.W. from the University of Maryland School of Social Work in 1988.

Upon finishing graduate school, Buchdahl had only intended to stay with Catholic Charities for two years, he said. But he was welcomed at Catholic Charities and was given the opportunity to grow and do many things in the field of social work. For the first 13 years, he served as a clinician, clinical supervisor and associate administrator for the Center for Family Services treatment foster care program.

For the last 20 years, Buchdahl has worked in the Family Services Division. He first worked there as the associate administrator for St. Vincent’s Center, before moving on to his current role as administrator of St. Vincent’s Villa and Villa Maria School, which provides educational and residential treatment services for children ages 5 to 14 with significant behavioral health challenges.

The award, said Buchdahl, belongs to his colleagues and staff as well, as he could not do what he does without their commitment and service. Additionally, there is a very special someone he credits with both enriching his life as well as those of the children and families he helps serve: Carmen, a 55-pound yellow lab and a rehabilitative facility dog. Buchdahl is Carmen’s primary handler.

Buchdahl and Carmen work together to provide calm and comfort to the children, their families and staff.

Buchdahl believes that there is an overlap between his social work values, his religious values and his personal values. “The work that Catholic Charities does is very much aligned with these values, so it’s been a very good place to work, and it serves everyone from all races and religions,” he said.

Buchdahl credits his parents — Rabbi Gustav and Sheila Buchdahl, a retired social worker — with laying the foundation for servant leadership and his work for social justice.

“I come from generations of helping professionals, and I believe strongly in tikkun olam,” Buchdahl said. “My entire career has been with Catholic Charities, mostly in leadership and administrative roles. My parents were my role models. My father marched with Martin Luther King Jr., was always strong on civil rights, human rights and women’s rights.”

Buchdahl’s parents’ commitment to social change and justice has been passed down to the generations, to Buchdahl, and to his children, Max, who is in rabbinical school, and Sara, who will be attending graduate school in social work later this year at Smith College, where his mother also attended graduate school.

Of his parents, Buchdahl said, “I saw them active as I was growing up and never saw myself doing anything other than social work. Helping people is always what I wanted to do.

“Judaism has always been central in my life, therefore it serves as a big influence in my work,” Buchdahl said.

Buchdahl is a firm believer in tikkun olam — repairing the world.

“As a Jew and social worker, I feel a strong obligation to engage in social action and perform acts of kindness to repair or heal the world,” Buchdahl said. “The congruence of my religious, professional and family values have helped guide me to this point in my life.”

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