Helen Kashtan

  • Name: Helen Kashtan
  • Family: Married to Howard; children Sam, 23, and Sara, 26
  • Occupation: Marketing Manager, Pathfinder Engineers & Architects LLP
  • Volunteer efforts:
  • Board member, Federation
  • Chairperson, Journey for Identity of the Partnership 2Gether Steering Committee of Federation
  • Member and past chairperson, Center for Holocaust Awareness and Information (CHAI), Federation
  • Member, Planning & Allocations and Marketing committees, Federation
  • Chairperson, Rochester Synagogue Council
  • Immediate Past President, Temple Beth David
  • Programs Chair and former Board President, Society for Marketing Professional Services, Upstate New York


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What does being Jewish mean to you?


Life's journey is mostly curvy, filled with joys and drama. But Judaism is a constant. Our traditions carry from generation to generation. I know that my great-great-grandparents conducted a seder, as my family does today. When I was in religious school, I heard my mom say at a meeting: ‘Jewish learning begins in the home." Learning the alef bet and other material was part of the religious school curriculum; but she was talking about Jewish values like family, tzedakah and tikkun olam. My parents, David and Esther Przewuzman, were Holocaust survivors. My mom, grandmother and two uncles survived. My father's family -- his parents, brothers and sister -- was entirely wiped out. My parents made their way to Rochester and met in the neighborhood on Joseph Avenue in 1950; they married in 1951. Their biggest goal as a couple was to create family, and their greatest joys were their six grandchildren. For them, it was proof that the Jewish people persevered; that their individual survival meant something. They were focused on providing my sisters and me both the traditional American childhood and Jewish connections. My sisters and first cousins are all deeply engaged in synagogue life: as volunteers, as educators, as leaders. I attribute this to the foundations that our parents gave us.”


How do you practice Jewish values in your life and career?


“I work for a great company, Pathfinder Engineers & Architects, that provides its employees the encouragement to engage in volunteer service in the community. As a company, we've participated in Habitat for Humanity, United Way’s Day of Caring, STEM mentoring for high-school students, and collections of food and school supplies. We practice both THANKS and GIVING. Personally, the partners of the firm have provided me encouragement, support and flexibility for my volunteer activities.”


How did you choose to focus your volunteer efforts?


“When we volunteer, it's important to think about what we are passionate about. My entry into volunteer service at Federation is definitely connected to my parents being Holocaust survivors. First, I became a member of the Yom HaShoah committee, then chair of our community commemoration. Next, I became chair of CHAI and a member of the Board. Both our children participated on Journey for Identity; now I chair the planning committee for the next trip. The work of these committees is so crucial. As a Jewish people, memory has brought us far, and the Holocaust -- though relatively modern -- is part of that collective memory. We need to think about it. We need talk about it. Journey for Identity is important because it teaches our teens not only about the destruction; but also about the rich culture and traditions of Eastern European Jewish life. For our kids, there ended up being deep, personal connections with our own family. On Journey for Identity II, our daughter stood where my uncles stood in Plaschow. She came home talking about that one spot and my uncle simply said, ‘I was there.’ Our son, on JFI IV, toured the synagogue where my mother's family worshipped, where my uncles became bar mitzvah. The day they toured was my mom's shloshim, 30 days after her funeral.


My involvement with Rochester Synagogue Council, a collaborative group of synagogue presidents, began when I was president of Temple Beth David. We are working on several initiatives, including continued support of each other for the coming year. Being a synagogue president is challenging. Synagogues are houses of worship, and places of community gathering. Presidents balance that with the business operations. The Council provides an opportunity for presidents to ask advice, to share ideas, and even vent on occasion! No matter your synagogue, we are more alike than different. We need to honor and respect history and look forward without being handcuffed by history.”


Can you share something interesting about yourself?


“In my early days of playing mah jongg with an amazing group of women from Temple Beth David, I would usually end up playing the same easy hand; so much so, they renamed it in my honor. Some ten years later – even though I rarely play that hand – it is still referred to as mine.”


-Melissa Pheterson