Ross Diamond is an unlikely guardian of Diaspora Judaism. As executive director of Hillel, on the campus of George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia, Diamond was not always involved with Jewish life or interested in the future of Judaism. “I wanted nothing to do with Jewish community,” Diamond recalled one exceptionally snowy afternoon recently. “I felt excluded by the other kids and didn’t feel like I was part of the ‘in’ group,” said the 29-year old native of East Meadow, New York. But now, serving as Hillel’s point-person on campus, he feels motivated to break barriers and show people that Judaism is more than prayer and ritual. “I want Hillel to break barriers.”
One way to involve Jewish students is by programming more than Shabbat, or high holiday services. “We have weekly Shabbat dinners. We are trying to build Jewish pride on campus.” Another way to instill pride and build Jewish enthusiasm amongst young people is through the Taglit-Birthright trip to Israel. Diamond is organizing a trip for Jewish college students from Virginia for Late May. Registration begins on 19 February. “We want it to be the trip of a lifetime,” he says, his enthusiasm evident. “We hope to create meaningful relationships with the Land of Israel and with each other,” says Diamond, who has traveled to Israel five times.
Another challenge Diaspora Jews like Diamond face is the Anti-Israel or the BDS movement. “We are all for free speech,” concedes Diamond, whose wife is a promising law student in Washington DC. “But we want people to keep an open mind about Israel. So much of the BDS movement prevents real dialogue.” Amongst other programs Diamond has helped bring to campus, he is currently working with several departments to bring an Israeli water-management expert to George Mason to lecture about progressive Israeli water policies and their applicability to other regions of the world. “We want to show that that the middle east is more than the Israel-Palestine conflict,” he explains.
Diamond, a 2005 graduate of Penn State University, has been at George Mason for only 18 months. “Israel has changed dramatically since the first time I went there,” he recalls. “The technology available to the ‘average’ Israeli is so much greater, but the cost of living is rising also.”
George Mason’s Hillel, which provides some kind of service or activity to nearly 250 students a year, is a part of the campus’ interfaith ministry. “We are trying to give our Jewish students an opportunity to say ‘yes’ to community and tradition.”
The group’s namesake would be proud.