By Lara Boyle
When Chava Rosenberg,’25, from Atlanta, Georgia, began her search for the perfect college, she knew she wanted a small school with a city life and a strong Jewish community. But she never thought she would find a place that offered both. At Queens, she discovered the best of both worlds. Located in the heart of Myers Park, Queens is just a short drive or bus ride away from uptown Charlotte, so students get to enjoy the quiet suburban atmosphere of a beautiful neighborhood alongside the vibrant city life. For Chava, current president of Hillel at Queens, the support she has received from the diverse Jewish community in Hillel makes the Presbyterian campus a home away from home.
“I love the support from Hillel,” she said. “Since we are the minority, it’s nice to always have someone to rely on and know they will always have your back. It’s also nice to have people that understand the hardships and joys that come with being Jewish in the south.”
The most fulfilling part of her time in Hillel so far has been the opportunities to make connections with other Jewish and interfaith students. She particularly loves the “amazing, fun events” offered each year like Soul Food Shabbat, which unites Hillel and the Black Student Union during Black History Month in February for a night of great food from both cultures and important conversations about the layered history these two communities share.
This year, the broader Charlotte community was invited to participate, bringing many new perspectives to the table. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Chava assisted in honoring Holocaust survivors in the community with sunflowers at the Stan Greenspon Center’s event, where Dr.Stephen Smith of the Shoah Foundation displayed interactive A.I. technology that showed how we can keep survivors’ stories alive after death. She also got to see Rabbi Cytron-Walker speak, who was honored with the Upstander Award and a standing ovation.
Chava’s goals are for Hillel to grow and prosper. “Although we may not have a large Hillel population, we have a big presence on campus. I would love to continue this presence and continue connecting people to Hillel,” she said. “I absolutely love being Jewish. Learning the culture and background of Judaism and the people that came before me is so interesting. I think my favorite thing about being Jewish is the culture and connections. It seems like everywhere I go a Jewish family is waiting to welcome me into their home and community.”
If she had to describe the American Jewish population in one word, it would be resilient. One member of Hillel who embodies this resilience is Athena Strickland’25.
Athena Strickland entered Queens University of Charlotte as a freshman from North Carolina. This year, members of Hillel are excited to celebrate Athena’s B’nei Mitzvah. Although traditionally, Bar or Bat Mitzvahs adhere to the male/female gender binary, the term B’nei Mitzvah, meaning children, in Hebrew, is a welcomed milestone towards inclusivity for nonbinary people like Athena who want to honor both aspects of their identities. Growing up in an interfaith household with a Jewish mother, Athena always felt connected to Judaism. But since coming to Queens, their desire to embrace their Jewish roots has grown stronger. Athena consulted with Rabbi Judy Schindler about the possibility of a B’Nei Mitzvah. They celebrated the big day on a Shabbat in February with lots of music, friends, and great food. “Getting involved in Hillel has made me feel more connected to Judaism through the community,” they said.
Stacy and Todd Gorelick have contributed funds to support Jewish life at Queens. “We are alarmed by the antisemitic climate on college campuses,” said Stacy. “We hope that continuing to build strong Jewish life at Queens will increase dialogue and understanding among students and also attract even more Jewish students to study there.”
“I believe that there is a healthy seed of Jewish Life at Queens University.” Shira Snyder, Coordinator of Jewish life, said. “The students are passionate and the whole of campus is supportive of Hillel. This healthy base creates the perfect opportunity to grow Jewish life and engagement of campus in Hillel activities/events.”
Jewish life is present on campus throughout the year. In 2022, members of Hillel enjoyed several important events, from high holiday services to building a sukkah from scratch for Sukkot. During Sukkot, students could be spotted enjoying the comfort of the Sukkah in the fall weather, reading a book, eating lunch, or just catching up with friends. Many students in the interfaith program also gathered in the Sukkah on Shabbat for sushi and to close out the week, listing goals for the week ahead. The Sukkah embodies what Hillel has to offer students at Queens: a community dwelling place where everyone is embraced with warmth.