RABBI Emeritus DONALD P. CASHMAN
Rabbi Don Cashman is native of the West Bank…of the Hudson. Born in Newburgh, New York, he is a fourth generation member of the Reform synagogue there, which was a focal point in his life growing up.
Since 1985 Rabbi Cashman was the spiritual leader of B’nai Sholom Reform Congregation in Albany, New York for 35 years before retiring June 2020. During his tenure the Congregation and its programs have enjoyed enormous growth in numbers and in depth. He taught the chanting of Torah and Haftarah to all Bar and Bat Mitzvah students, and provided the music for congregational worship for one-third of all services, usually accompanying himself on the guitar.
Rabbi Cashman received his undergraduate education at Boston University, where he was privileged to study with a wide array of the leading lights of Jewish scholarship: Bible with Everett Fox, Jewish history and thought with Nahum Glatzer, Mysticism and Messianism with Gershom Scholem and Daniel Matt, and the literature of Jewish persecution and Hasidic tales with Elie Wiesel. Rabbi Cashman began rabbinical school at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem during the 1977-78 year. He returned to the HUC-JIR campus in New York. At New York University, he studied with Cyrus H. Gordon, and Lawrence Shiffman. At HUC-JIR, he wrote his thesis on the theologies of 20th century Bible translations under Prof. Harry M. Orlinsky, and was ordained in 1983. In 2008 he received from HUC-JIR the degree of Doctor of Divinity (honoris causa) in recognition of his commitment, dedication, and service to the Reform Movement, Judaism, and the Jewish People,.
Rabbi Cashman served student pulpits in the Bronx; Charlotte, NC; Battle Creek, MI, and Winchester VA. From 1983-85 he served as Assistant Rabbi at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, Florida, a congregation with two buildings, two religious schools, and three youth groups 20 miles apart. After 60 funerals in two years, he left the “land of our ancestors.”
In addition to his many duties for the congregation, Rabbi Cashman has twice served as President of the Capital District Board of Rabbis, and twice as its Treasurer. As President he delivered a welcome – in Hebrew – to Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert at the New York State Assembly’s Jerusalem 3000 Celebration. Rabbi Cashman is also the founder and past President of the Capital District Jewish Genealogical Society, and serves on the Board of the Jewish Historical Society of Northeastern New York. He has been a faculty member at Jewish camps and youth conclaves in New York, Massachusetts, Georgia, and Florida; twice at the NFTY National Convention in Washington, D.C., and is past President of the UAHC Kutz Camp Alumni and Friends Association. He has served as regional chairman of the Rabbinic Cabinet of State of Israel Bonds, and he is a former member of the Board of the United Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York. In addition to his work in the Jewish community, Rabbi Cashman has also been involved with human rights, abortion rights and anti-death penalty efforts in the Capital District, and was instrumental in the establishment of an interfaith Meditation Room at Albany International Airport. He was Chair of the Board of Directors of Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood, and served on the Board and Executive Committee of Family Planning Advocates of New York State. Since 2006 he has been Visiting Lecturer at the University at Albany, teaching a course in Jewish traditions and practices.
A fervent lover of the State of Israel, Rabbi Cashman has made 18 trips, including leading 8 bi-annual congregational pilgrimages since 1995.
His first trip to Israel in 1975, was as a member of the Zamir Chorale of Boston, which performed in an international choral festival and with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Aida under Zubin Mehta. Rabbi Cashman remains involved in the world of Jewish choral and contemporary synagogue music. In recent years he has sung from time to time with the Ne’imah Jewish Community Chorus of Albany, and eleven times has been a participant in the North American Jewish Choral Festival. He is widely imagined to be one of the world’s best ba’alei tekiah, (Shofar blowers), known for his clear, stirring, and long tones as well as the ability to play tunes. He served as Instructor in the art and practice of the Shofar at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion High Holiday Practicum in the early 1980’s. In earlier years Rabbi Cashman played banjo in a bluegrass band in Jerusalem, French horn in marching band and orchestra, string bass in a jazz band, and did folkie things like playing in Sloop Festivals along the Hudson. On the Summer Stock stage he was a von Trapp son, and flew with Peter Pan as a Darling child. He began singing with a synagogue choir at the age of 8, and was the first person in his High School to take the Advanced Placement exam in Music. He has been attempting to learn mandolin for the last 25 years.
Known as a connoisseur of capsaicin, Rabbi Cashman delights in attending to his vegetable garden, chiefly tomatoes and chili peppers.
Since 1984 he has been married to Sharona Wachs, Associate Librarian at the University at Albany, and Affiliated Faculty with the Department of Judaic Studies. Their three children –Avraham, Eliana, and Ayelet – live in the Boston area.