Meet Carly Mast: A Leader in BU's On-Campus Jewish Community

Carly Mast pushed open the doors to BU’s Hillel House, the on-campus center for Jewish life, grinning ear to ear. As she crossed the lobby she stopped to say hello to a few friends gathered in the many comfortable chairs scattered across the open space. She then ducked her head into the office spaces to say hello to the Hillel staff before settling on a couch in the back corner.

As just an 18-year-old freshman, Mast has already started to leave her mark on BU, especially in BU’s Jewish community. Her strong connection to her heritage was forged at an early age — she attended a private, conservative Jewish day school in West Orange, New Jersey for the extent of her primary education.

Credit: Carly Mast

Mast says she had a very positive experience in this school environment. It allowed her to have a strong Jewish connection, and she feels that this helped shape very important parts of her identity. “My school did a really good job of teaching you how to question and how to build a relationship with Judaism that isn’t blind faith,” Mast said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am without the school I went to.”

Mast’s school offered two opportunities to travel to Israel during her time as a student. Naale (meaning, “We Go Up”) was a 10 day trip in the 9th grade centered around mostly tourist activities. Neshama (meaning “Soul”) was a three month trip in place of what would have been her last semester in 12th grade.

It was on Neshama that Mast felt she had a life-changing experience in regards to how she thinks about Israel, and how to have nuanced dialogue about the area and its current political state.

She also views Neshama as the way she learned to feel more at home in Israel, instead of feeling like a tourist. “It’s the one place where I don’t have to explain myself,” Mast says. While keeping Kosher and observing holidays can be difficult in the diaspora, the welcoming environment of being in a Jewish state made her feel like she was able to fully be herself.

When Mast arrived at BU, she knew she wanted to find the same kind of strong Jewish community that her high school had provided to her. This was especially important because she would be transitioning from an entirely Jewish learning environment to one in which Jewish students were a much smaller part of the student body.

BU Students for Israel, or BUSI, is an apolitical, secular group on campus that focuses on educating people about Israel and promoting pro-Israel rhetoric on campus. Mast says that while there may be times when it is necessary to talk about politics, BUSI is not politically affiliated and is focused on “building a pro-Israel community on campus.”

In her second semester at BU, Mast joined the E-Board as BUSI’s secretary. She says that when she first arrived on campus, the group did not have as strong of a presence as other college’s pro-Israel groups, and she took a leadership position in the hopes that she could help the club reach its full potential.

Credit: Carly Mast

Her goals moving forward with this club are to create substantive meetings and events and to continue promoting productive dialogue. In order to do this, BUSI holds talks with speakers such as Yosef Abramowitz, an Israeli-American environmentalist and BU alum, and cultural celebrations such as the upcoming IsraelFest.

However, despite her accomplishments in bolstering the Jewish community on campus thus far, Mast has also faced challenges in pursuing her goals. Mast says, “Being a pro-Israel leader also exposes you to anti-Israel rhetoric on campus, which is hard to think about and deal with.”

She especially finds it difficult to hear from people who passionately hate Israel due to how connected Israel is to herself and her identity, as well as how anti-Israel sentiments can sometimes be tied to anti-semitic claims. However, she understands and believes that it is important to talk about both sides of the issue in order to have a better understanding of the conflict.

Mast also expressed that it is challenging to convince students to have an opinion. “You’re not aiming [to attract] the 10% who are against it or the 10% who are for it,” she said, “You’re aiming for the 80% who don’t care.”

IsraelFest is one event that BUSI hopes will grab the attention of that other 80% of students. This event will be a large Israeli carnival that is meant to celebrate Israeli culture through food, music, and conversation, as well as free merchandise.

One group that will be visiting is Artists for Israel, a local organization that will be painting shirts for attendees and promoting their craft. In general, BUSI hopes to use IsraelFest as a way to promote their club and pro-Israel organizations to the larger student body.

BU Hillel’s official mission statement is to “inspire, educate, and empower Boston University students to live meaningful, joyous Jewish lives,” according to the official BU Hillel website.

While it is clear that being a part of this community has certainly inspired and empowered Mast, her work through BU Hillel and BUSI is allowing her to inspire, educate, and empower other students as well.

Mast’s peers are not the only people to recognize her outstanding level of commitment to empowering the Jewish community on campus. Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Greater Boston’s Jewish Federation, recently awarded her with the Israel Action Ambassador Award for her work in BUSI, in conjunction with the New England Consulate of Israel.

Credit: Carly Mast

This award is meant to recognize students who are doing exceptional pro-Israel work on campuses around the Boston area, and the reason she was nominated for this award is clear from Mast’s dedication to BUSI, Hillel, and the Jewish community on BU’s campus.

Mast cites her love for Israel as a driving factor in the work she does on campus. “[Being in Israel] is almost indescribable,” she says. “It’s like coming home.”

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