Mason Lighting the Way
Spotlights from the Task Force
More than 130 faculty, staff and students are working on George Mason University’s Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force, which is taking a hard look at the current state of diversity and inclusivity efforts at the university and making recommendations for the future.
These individuals come from across our campuses and bring their different skill sets and expertise to this work. In this series, we will spotlight members of the task force and find out what drives them.
Executive Director, Mason Hillel
Na’ama Gold is from Arad, Israel, and has been working in the United States for the past six years. She has led George Mason University’s Hillel for four of those years.
Hillel is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world with representation at more than 550 universities and colleges around the globe. While the name and branding are internationally connected, Gold said each campus Hillel is its own standalone nonprofit.
The mission of Mason Hillel is to serve the educational, religious, cultural, social and emotional needs of Jewish students attending Mason and to support the Jewish campus community, which Gold has been doing from a small office in the Johnson Center. The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t made her job easy.
“What we tried to do this academic year was copy what we did in person to a virtual mode,” said Gold. “It took us about two to three months to understand it doesn't translate well, and we’ve had to adjust everything we do.”
What she has found is that the students who have been involved with Mason Hillel continue to attend activities, but it has been difficult to connect with new students.
“I think that’s the most painful part [of this pandemic],” said Gold. “If you're new, you're not going to hop into a Zoom. It's not the space.”
Gold sees providing resources as one of the most important parts of her job.
“The majority of my community comes from an interfaith household and often their first step into Judaism would be with us,” said Gold. “They know they're Jewish, but never had the experience or time or support…. And then you go to college, Mason, and you try to find your identity, right?”
For many students, this transition involves exploring their religious and spiritual identities.
Gold was very excited to be part of the Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force because, well, it’s complicated.
"I come from a Jewish state where religion plays a significant part in shaping the culture, politics, and administration. From my experience in the United States though, it seems like you're American outside, and religion is something you do at home," she said. "But for many, especially in Judaism, faith is a lot more than where and what you pray. It's a combination of ethnicity, culture, food, history, values, and for some, even nationality."
She added that, according to FBI reports, Jews are the most targeted religious minority group in the United States. And the politics surrounding Israel makes it even more challenging. As an example, Gold talks about someone defacing a Star of David.
“Is that anti-Semitism or an anti-Israeli political activity?”
Gold also feels it is important to also keep anti-Semitism in mind when examining the naming of campus buildings and programs, a process that is already underway based on one of the recommendations coming from the task force.
Gold also cites microaggressions as one of the biggest problems facing Jewish people, including many offensive jokes and comments based on stereotypes.
Mason Hillel, which is part of the Campus Ministry Association in University Life, has a five-year strategic plan, and Gold is working on a number of initiatives, including having more kosher foods available on campus.
She has been in conversation with Provost Mark Ginsberg, Vice President Rose Pascarell, the Faculty Senate and others on improving awareness of Jewish high holidays and bringing anti-Semitism on campus to light. And she would like to have more interfaith conversations on campus.
While Gold feels like there has been huge progress in her four years here, she believes Mason can still do more to be welcoming to Jewish students. From kosher food to a place to pray, Gold is striving to provide Jewish students, faculty, and staff with the resources they need to practice their faith.
“I have to say, too, a huge respect to Mason, whenever we’ve knocked on doors, people opened them.”