Jimmy Kessler

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James Lee "Jimmy" Kessler
Rabbi Jimmy Kessler speaking before the University of Texas System Board of Regents in support of UTMB and John Sealy Hospital.
Born (1945-12-10)December 10, 1945
Houston, Texas, United States
Occupation Rabbi

James Lee Kessler[1] (born December 10, 1945), the founder of the Texas Jewish Historical Society, is the first native Texan to serve as rabbi of Congregation B'nai Israel in Galveston, Texas.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Kessler was born in Houston, Texas. After attending local schools including being valedictorian and president of his graduating class at San Jacinto Senior High School, he earned his BA from the University of Texas in Austin.[3] He earned the first doctorate in Texas Jewish history, at the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, where he was also ordained as a rabbi.[3]


Kessler first served as director of the Texas Hillel, which serves the students attending the University of Texas. While there, Kessler taught very popular courses in the Religious Studies programs at UT and served on several committees at the request of the University president.

Based on his long interest in Texas Jewish history, Kessler founded the Texas Jewish Historical Society in 1980. Today the society has grown to more 750 members and has sponsored and supported research for scholars and students of Texas Jewish history.[4][5]

In 1976, he was called as rabbi of Congregation B'nai Israel in Galveston, Texas, serving them for five years. He returned as rabbi in 1989, and led the congregation until 2014 when he became Rabbi Emeritus.[3] This is the first and oldest Reform Jewish congregation in Texas.[6]

Kessler's strong dedication to education and youth has continued: he served as campus minister to Jewish students at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB), and taught philosophy at Galveston College. He also serves as Jewish chaplain for patients at UTMB's hospitals.[7]

Academics and leadership[edit]

Kessler is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for the Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas, where he also holds the position of Jewish History Editor.[8]

Public service[edit]

Kessler has been engaged in numerous public activities: he was appointed as the first Chairman of the Church-State Relations Advisory Board of the Texas Department of Human Resources.

He has participated in the management of foundations, such as director of the Harris & Eliza Kempner Fund, trustee for the Abe and Anne Siebel Fund, and director of the Abe and Peggy Levy Fund. He is a 27-year member of the Institutional Review Board of the University of Texas Medical Branch. He is a member of the Human Research Committee at the Transitional Learning Center, and founding chair of the Community Liaison Committee for the Galveston National Laboratory.[9]

He is chaplain for the Galveston County Sheriff's Office. [10] [11]

In July 2009, Kessler became the first rabbi in the 171-year history of Texas freemasonry to be named the presiding officer of a Masonic lodge, when Harmony Lodge of Galveston installed him as its new leader. Harmony Lodge was established in 1839.[12] In 2015 he was appointed the Grand Chaplain of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Texas, FA&AM.

Legacy and honors[edit]


  • Kessler, with Cathy Schechter and Ruthe Winegarten, wrote Deep in the Heart: The Lives and Legends of Texas Jews : A Photographic History. (1990) [13]
  • Songs for the Soul: Selections from Psalms(1995) [14]
  • Henry Cohen: The Life of a Frontier Rabbi. (1997) [15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "HUC-JIR News Founders Day", Hebrew Union College, 12 March 1997, Retrieved on 2012-03-13.
  2. ^ Kessler, James L. "Temple B'nai Israel, Galveston". Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved 2007-10-24. 
  3. ^ a b c "Rabbi Jimmy Kessler, DHL, DD". Temple B'nai Israel. Archived from the original on 2007-08-18. Retrieved 2007-10-24. 
  4. ^ "Main Page". The Texas Jewish Historical Society. Retrieved 2010-07-09. 
  5. ^ "80(R) Senate Resolution 709 – Enrolled Version – Bill Text". The Texas State Senate. Retrieved 2007-10-25. 
  6. ^ KARKABI, BARBARA (October 8, 2008). "Helping others keep the faith: Isle's only rabbi will hold outdoor Yom Kippur event". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 9 July 2010. 
  7. ^ "Jimmy Kessler". University of Texas MB. 2007-09-25. Archived from the original on January 5, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-24. 
  8. ^ "Texas State Historical Association – The Handbook of Texas Online – New Handbook of Texas Editorial Advisory Board". Archived from the original on July 9, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-02. . Tshaonline.org (1920-03-12). Retrieved on 2012-03-13.
  9. ^ Rice, Harvey. "Glitch prompts shutdown of biohazard lab at UTMB". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-07-08. 
  10. ^ Microsoft Word – FallWinter2003.doc Archived June 9, 2004, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ [1] Archived May 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ Cousins, Rick. "Kessler attains unique status among Texas Masons". Galveston Daily News. Archived from the original on 2012-03-08. Retrieved 2010-07-08. 
  13. ^ Kessler, Jimmy; Schechter, Cathy; Society, Texas Jewish Historical (July 1990). Deep in the Heart: The Lives and Legends of Texas Jews : A Photographic History. Eakin Press. p. 272. ISBN 978-0-89015-759-6. Retrieved 2007-10-31. 
  14. ^ Kessler, Jimmy (1995-05-01). Songs for the Soul: Selections from Psalms. Ledero Pr. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-9627775-5-4. Retrieved 2007-10-31. 
  15. ^ Kessler, Jimmy (1997-06-01). Henry Cohen: The Life of a Frontier Rabbi. Eakin Press. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-57168-199-7. Retrieved 2007-10-31. 

External links[edit]