In My Own Words: Living in your hometown by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

You know you live in your hometown when someone you don’t recognize says to you. “I babysat you when you were 3 years old.” This occurred when I was attending an event the first weekend in March and, even though I didn’t remember her, I knew she was right because she told me where I lived at the time. 

When the event was over, I took a detour on my way home to look at the apartment building we’d lived in when I was young and then swung around a few blocks to visit what had been my grandparents’ house. (That was not the house my mom grew up in, which is now a parking lot near Union Endicott High School.) I’m actually a third generation Endicotter: my grandparents lived here; my mom, my younger brother and I were born here (my older brother was born in Brooklyn, which is where my father originally lived); and I attended the same high school as my mom. 
Most of my life used to take place in Endicott, even after we moved to Endwell: I went to school there, then worked there, shopped there (and was crushed when Burts of Endicott went out of business because where was I going to find the things I always bought there?) and prayed in Endicott’s synagogue, Temple Beth El. Vestal and Binghamton? Man, they were so far away! “How could anyone travel that far every day,” said the person who now works in Vestal and prays in Binghamton. But, especially in my very early years, going to Binghamton was a big deal. (By the way, I did get to Brooklyn and Manhattan, but those were vacations and different.) I’ve been known to echo my mother when someone mentions a place in Binghamton with which I’m not familiar: “But I’m an Endicott girl.”

If you had asked me when I was 18 if I would be living in Endicott/Endwell at this stage of my life, I would have said, “No!” In fact, both times I moved from this area – to college in the 1970s and rabbinical school in the ‘90s – I never planned to return. During college, I fell in love with Philadelphia and big city life. When I was in rabbinical school, I didn’t think there would be any rabbinical work for me here. Both times I returned due to health problems: after college, my body just wasn’t working right and, after rabbinical school, my hearing had almost completely disappeared.

However, each time I returned, I took solace in the phrase “bloom where you are planted.” Those words appeared on a poster given to me by a college friend; that poster hung on my bedroom door until I left for rabbinical school. They still inspire me even if I no longer see them everyday. We may not be able to change the problems life gives us, but we can adjust our attitude. I make no claim to have been happy to return home either time, but it was up to me as to whether I stayed permanently miserable or found things that could fill my life with joy. 

The funny thing is that now I could never live in a large city. Although I love visiting friends in Philly, I now prefer the green hills of Broome County. I realize that part of this is that I have no choice: living in a city is not good for my health. But I can focus on the good things, including the wonderful community that embraced me when I returned to this area and made my rabbinate possible. I may not be a pulpit rabbi, which was my dream when I entered rabbinical school. However, I’m used to having the dreams of what my life would be like not come true and having to travel a different path. What matters are the joys offered by the path I have taken.