You don't know how much you miss structured, purposefully Jewish culture until it is laid out in front of you by Boscov's kosher catering, with dreidels on a plastic tablecloth accompanied by a few pieces of dark chocolate gelt.
I came to this realization on a recent rainy night in Wyomissing, Pa., a suburb of Reading in Berks County. I had been invited to a Chanukah dinner for Jewish college students and recent graduates in the Reading area.
I engaged in conversation about Jewish geography, summer camp, how many Jewish kids went to my college and my job as a reporter. It felt like old times at Jewish summer camp, at Penn State, my alma mater, or with my friends from my Tel Aviv University study abroad program -- the places I felt comfortable, connected to my Jewish culture and completely at ease.
By accepting the invitation from the Jewish Federation of Reading, I was making a Jewish choice. After college is a time of many choices. Judaism isn't fed to anyone once you're out on your own. You have to make choices to decide how you'll observe the holidays, if you choose to recognize them at all.
What choices are made often derive from traditions picked up through family, friends, travels or romantic relationships.
It's something all recent graduates struggle with as they settle into their jobs or graduate study coursework, move to a new place or begin living on their own in the place they grew up. What exactly are we all doing as young adults?
Although our Jewish connections might not be the most pressing issue for many of us, the question often arises at holiday times.
What do you do once the familiar institutions of Jewish summer camp, religious school, fraternities/sororities, university Hillels and Chabads -- not to mention special family traditions -- are suddenly out of reach, especially if you live in a place with very few Jews?
It's a strange thing when you realize that the institutions that helped create who you are today are now part of your past.
I personally have made a few Jewish choices since moving out on my own in June. For Rosh Hashanah, I went to a local synagogue and attended services alone. It didn't really bother me to be alone. I felt that I needed to be there. On Yom Kippur, I went home to Pittsburgh and attended services and celebrated break-the-fast with my family.
I'm not yet sure what I'll do on Chanukah. I'll certainly light the menorah my mother gave me for my apartment. But holidays are about being with people you share traditions with. Does it become illegitimate when you're alone? Does it become more meaningful because you've carried it with you?
Some of my Jewish friends won't give the holidays a thought unless their parents call them and remind them. Others, like a friend I went abroad with who posts pictures of the Shabbat challah she bakes each week, will find a way to observe.
What led us to be the young Jewish adults we are today shouldn't be forgotten. As we navigate the tricky post-graduate world, I believe we should hold on to what's held on to us through all our Jewish experiences, and eventually we'll all figure it out.
Ashley Gold is a May 2011 graduate of Pennsylvania State University and currently works as a Metro reporter for the Reading Eagle in Berks County. She can be reached at [email protected] .