Both of us lived in the greater Atlanta area, and we both chose Queens University of Charlotte as our home for four years. However, as Jewish students entering a school with a Presbyterian heritage, our initial experiences were radically different.

When Simon started college in the fall of 2013, we had almost no Jewish presence on campus. Only a few Jewish professors taught at the university, and only a handful of Jewish students were enrolled. With no organized community at the university, Simon’s only connection to Charlotte’s Jewish community occurred when he traveled to a synagogue as part of his academic freshman general education experience.

Because he did not have a car, Simon could not get to Shalom Park, the hub of Charlotte’s Jewish activity five miles away. To connect with his spirituality in a house of G-d, he attended Queens’ chapel services, where students of all religious backgrounds were welcomed. When Christian prayers were recited, Simon would silently offer his own Jewish prayers.

Fast-forward three years to when Morasha arrived on campus in August 2016.

To her delight, she found an active and inviting Jewish community, and she joined the Jewish students she and Simon now consider their Queens family. She loves the size of Queens’ small student body and the intimate, personalized experiences she has with professors who not only know her name, but also know her as a person.

Excited by the endowed international program, which provides every student with an opportunity to study overseas, and by an internship program that places every student in a professional work environment, she looks forward to the real-life experiences she will gain.

When searching for just the right college, Morasha had no idea her Judaism would become an important factor in her decision. As she considered Queens University, she appreciated its growing Jewish program and believed she could have a hand in shaping it.

Her involvement with her high school youth group led her to believe that at Queens she would have an opportunity to share her passion. When she learned about the $5,000-a-year Gossett Jewish Leadership Scholarship, which demonstrates Queens’ openness to bringing a new cultural and religious perspective to the historically Presbyterian campus, she was sold.

The university, which once had a single-minded religious focus, had made its commitment to embrace diversity.

Morasha finds Charlotte’s Jewish community vibrant and welcoming, and with the hub only five miles away, she has found a place to teach and earn some money at the religious school.

When Simon started at Queens, the university had no official Jewish program and no professional staff to support Jewish students. He did not prioritize religion when he chose to attend Queens.

But when a dynamic and enriching Jewish program evolved during his sophomore and junior years, he found himself grateful to have Hillel on campus.

Both of us (Simon and Morasha) have worked to build a Jewish life at Queens. As we mature as independent Jewish adults, we make our own religious choices (such as attending High Holiday services), and, by our example, we help to ignite a Jewish spark in other students.

At Queens Hillel, we embrace our Judaism, and our chapter invited UNC Charlotte’s more established Hillel to join us on several occasions. With the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, we raised money to erect our own sukkah, which we built and took down ourselves. Thirty people attended our seder in April, and we hope to double those numbers next Passover as we open our doors to all Queens students, regardless of faith or heritage.

We have become a significant part of the multicultural fabric of the school and are looking forward to planning programs and trips with the Black Student Organization.

In three short years, Queens now has Talli Dippold as our director of Jewish life and Rabbi Judy Schindler, rabbi emerita of North Carolina’s largest Jewish congregation, as both our rabbi and an associate professor of Judaic studies. We have a new multicultural lounge in the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement Suite, where many multicultural and religious groups hold their meetings.

Rabbi Judy and Talli also lead the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice, which not only provides regional teachers with Holocaust and human rights educational resources and training, but also organizes Queens students and the entire Charlotte community to advocate for justice and support social issues that will make a positive difference in the world.

Simon graduated in May and is working in Charlotte, and Morasha will graduate in 2020. We welcome all Jewish students to Queens and look forward to their contributions, ideas and identity as they become part of our special campus community.