An Empty Nest In A New Tree

By Paula C. Yablonsky


My life in an interfaith family has been rich with milestones, many of which I’ve written about here at educating a Jewish child as a non-Jewish mother, converting to Judaism as an adult and renewing my marriage to my husband, finding a way to mourn Jewishly for my own mother. Through it all I had a spiritual home at a wonderful synagogue and a goal to my Jewish life: to raise a Jewish child. My family has reached a new milestone, one that anyone with children will experience. My daughter Erica is now a junior at a small university in Pittsburgh and my husband Mark and I are bona fide members of the empty nesters club.

During this time, in addition to Erica leaving for college, Mark and I moved to western Pennsylvania, not to be closer to our daughter, though that turned out to be nice benefit of our move, but to keep Mark employed. Businesses are downsizing and closing, there are mergers and consolidations of offices and we have been part of these changes.

Western Pennsylvania landscapeOne concern I’ve had during the past two-plus years was how each of us will experience Judaism without the familiarity and comfort of friends, family and our synagogue. This has been a time of letting go for me. I have had to let Erica make her own choices about how she will observe various holidays. Like many students away from home, she is part of a community that doesn’t have a large Jewish student population. Instructors hold classes on the Jewish Holy Days and Erica has had to decide whether to take time off. With Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at the start of the school year, this decision is even harder. My daughter was nervous about missing classes, but also conflicted about not going to services. In a new place, my daughter didn’t know where or with whom she would celebrate the holidays.

Mark and I were in New York during Erica’s first year at college and we were still able to celebrate in our usual manner but without our daughter. It felt strange not to have our daughter at our dinner table or besides us at services. We had to respect Erica’s decisions on observing the holidays. Even though we have now moved closer to where she attends school and we are able to be with her more often, her decisions haven’t always been the ones we would make. However, as she matures, we have learned to respect and support her.

With our move to Pennsylvania, Mark and I were set adrift from our Jewish community. We had been members of Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady, N.Y., for 25 years. We were part of the community and had been fortunate to have a good relationship with Rabbi Cutler, who helped us through the vicissitudes of life. In Pennsylvania, we faced the usual changes in doctors, supermarkets and neighbors and we also had to find a new Jewish community. We were now the newcomers, the strangers.

We met others who made the move from New York to Pennsylvania and who are also Jewish and they have become our friends, not just for movies and dinners out but also for celebrating holidays. Finding a synagogue has been more of a challenge. We had automatically joined the synagogue closest to our home but that has not been the best decision for us. This year I’ve resolved to explore additional synagogues to find a new spiritual home.

In addition to respecting Erica’s decisions regarding Judaism, Mark and I learned that what may have worked for us in New York might not work for us Pennsylvania. This has become a time to re-discover and re-connect to Judaism. What does Judaism mean to us as a family and as individuals? What type of synagogue do we wish to join? What types of connections are important to us and how will we make them?

Changes have always been difficult for me and this one has been especially hard. However, as we start our second year in our new home, changes are becoming opportunities to continue growing not only as a Jewish family, but also as Jewish individuals.


About Paula C. Yablonsky

Paula C. Yablonsky is the co-editor of TechKnowledgies. Paula lives in western Pennsylvania with her husband, Mark Gibbons.