Rabbi James Lee "Jimmy" Kessler
(born December 10
), the founder of the Texas Jewish Historical Society
, is the first Native Texan
to assume the leadership of Congregation B'nai Israel
, Galveston, Texas
Rabbi Kessler has led this Galveston kehilla
for 25 years. A Jewish Texan
Kessler was born in Houston, Texas
and is an expert on Galveston's Jewish history
. He studied for his doctorate
, in Texas Jewish history
, at the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion and received his BA from the University of Texas
in Austin. His long interest in Texas Jewish history lead to him founding 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.
After graduating from the University of Texas, and being ordained a Rabbi by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati he served as director of the Texas Hillel, the Hillel that serves the students attending the University of Texas. While there Rabbi Kessler taught very popular courses in the Religious Studies progams at UT and served on several committees at the request of the president of UT. His strong dedication to education and youth continues to this day through his serving as Campus minister to Jewish students at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) as well as his position as Jewish Chaplin for patients at UTMB's hospitals.
Academics and leadership
Rabbi Kessler holds an honorary Doctorate
in Divinity from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
and serves on the Commission for Sustaining Rabbinic Education, an organization that works to create, promote, and implement educational programs for the Reform Rabbinate.
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.
Past honors that have been bestowed on Kessler include being named the first Chairman of the Church-State Relations Advisory Board for the Texas Department of Human Resources, past board member for the Central Conference of American Rabbis, past director of the Harris & Eliza Kempner Fund, trustee for the Abe and Anne Siebel Fund, director of the Abe and Peggy Levy Fund, and past member of the Human Research Committee at the University of Texas Medical Branch, current chair of the Community Liaison Committee for the Galveston National Lab and Chaplain for the Galveston County Sheriff's Office.
In 1990, accompanied by two other authors, Rabbi Kessler wrote, Deep in the Heart: The Lives and Legends of Texas Jews : A Photographic History.
In 1995, Rabbi Kessler wrote, Songs for the Soul: Selections from Psalms.
In 1997, Rabbi Kessler published Henry Cohen: The Life of a Frontier Rabbi.
The Galveston County Daily News
has written numerous articles concerning Rabbi Jimmy Kessler. Rabbi Kessler has been compared to the late Rabbi Henry Cohen
by this paper. Also, the Galveston Daily News quotes Rabbi Kessler as considering "Hanukkah
as the first battle in history fought for religious freedom
." Also, the Galveston County Daily News has reviewed Rabbi Kessler's books.