History of the Texas Jewish Historical Society

(from an article by Rabbi Jimmy Kessler in the TJHS Magazine, February 2003)

As a seventh grader in Pershing Junior High School in Houston, young Jimmy Kessler got his first lesson in the importance of preserving Texas Jewish history. Jimmy along with other Jewish students were absent from school for Yom Kippur and missed an important test in Texas History. The teacher gave all the absent Jewish students an “F”.  Parents came to the school to ask why a failing grade. Jimmy remembered there was much back-and-forth discussion, but the comment that stuck with him was when the teacher said, “We Jews had to remember that we weren’t here in Texas – early on—and had nothing to do with Texas history.”

That comment stuck with Jimmy Kessler for more than 40 years.

As a first-year student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio, Jimmy and his fellow rabbinical students were encouraged to check out the American Jewish Archives and its three walls of card catalogues, representing a collection of original materials from all over the world and reflecting some aspect of the American Jewish experience.

When Jimmy checked the “Te” box for “Texas”, he found only two cards.

As a third-year rabbinical student, Jimmy took an American Jewish History course taught by Rabbi Jacob Rader Marcos, father of the academic study of American Jewish History.  Jimmy challenged Rabbi Marcus in one class when told “nothing of importance happened in American Jewish history before 1900 east of the Mississippi River.”  Jimmy promised to prove Dr. Marcus wrong.

It was about this time that Jimmy Kessler knew that Texas Jewish experience had to be collected and preserved, but any action was put on a back burner after his 1972 ordination and a stint as Hillel Director at UT Austin until 1975.  His early attempts to preserve records ended in disappointment.

In 1976, Rabbi Kessler was selected to lead Temple B’Nai Israel of Galveston. Galveston was a community that took its history seriously. It is the oldest extant Jewish Community in Texas and B’nai Israel is the oldest Reform congregation in the State. Moreover, Rabbi Henry Cohen, who had served B’nai Israel longer than any Rabbi, was well known for his role in the 1907-1914 Galveston Movement.

After years of kvetching about this need to archive Jewish material, Harris L. Kempner cornered Rabbi Kessler and asked what he needed to make things happen. Rabbi Kessler suggested a statewide meeting of folk interested in the project would be a good start. Harris pulled out his checkbook and wrote a check for $3,000 to defray costs for such a meeting.

In 1980 Rabbi Kessler published letters in The Jewish Herald-Voice of Houston and in The Texas Jewish Post of Dallas/Fort Worth calling for the creation of a historical society to preserve the history of the Texas Jewish experience.   As a result, in March 1980 a first Gathering of interested Texans took place in San Antonio to organize the Texas Jewish Historical Society. Rabbi Kessler was chosen its first president.

Today, the Texas Jewish Historical Society continues to sponsor and encourage research, publications, and projects on Texas Jewish history, providing a forum for scholars, students, journalists, and genealogists.

Rabbi Jimmy Kessler died September 2022. His legacy will forever be a huge, celebrated part of Texas Jewish history.

Watch a brief video overview of TJHS:

Officers and Board of Trustees

Officers 2022-2023

President – Sheldon Lippman (Austin)

1st Vice President – Joan Linares (Baytown)

2nd Vice President – Susan Novick (El Paso)

3rd Vice President – Janice Gerber (Houston)

Recording Secretary – John Campbell (Austin)

Corresponding Secretary – Amy Milstein (Frisco)

Treasurer – Ben Rosenberg (Sugar Land)

Historian/Archivist – Sally Drayer (Dallas)

Parliamentarian – Susan Zack Lewis
(Big Spring)

Board of Trustees, 2021-2023

Jim Bernick (Beach City)

Willie Braudaway (Del Rio)

Gayle Cannon (Austin)

Nelson Chafetz (Austin)

Joyce Davidoff (El Paso)

Jules Frapart (Brownsville)

Lynda Furgatch (Brownsville)

Sharon Gerber (Houston)

Dolly Golden (Austin)

Kathy Kravitz (Austin)

Cindy Lindauer (Austin)

Eric H. Nelson (Houston)

Alan Selzer (Houston)

Laurie Selzer (Houston)

Susan Septimus (Houston)

Barbara Green Stone (Dallas)

Phyllis Turkel (Houston)

Cynthia Wolf (Beaumont)

Board of Trustees, 2022-2024

Elaine Albin (Rockport)

Doug Braudaway (Del Rio)

Marlene Eichelbaum (San Antonio)

Mel Eichelbaum (San Antonio)

Anita Feigenbaum (College Station)

Michael Furgatch (Brownsville)

Sonny Gerber (Houston)

Henry Greenberg (San Antonio)

Jan Siegel Hart (Temple)

Jeffrey Josephs (Austin)

Marilyn Lippman (Dallas)

Jane Manaster (Dallas)

Hy Penn (Kingwood)

Paula Stein (Houston)

David Vogel (Austin)

Betty Weiner (Houston)

Hollace Weiner (Fort Worth)

Michael Wolf (Beaumont)

Joyce Wormser (Pearland)

Past Presidents

1980-1982 – Rabbi Jimmy Kessler (Galveston)

1982-1984 – Frances Kallison (San Antonio)

1984-1986 – Lionel Schooler (Houston)*

1986 – Ed Lax (Dallas)

1986-1989 – Ginger Jacobs (Dallas)

1989-1991 – Milton Smith (Austin)

1991-1993 – Fay Brachman (Fort Worth)

1993-1995 – Don Teter (Baytown)

1995-1998 – Barbara Rosenberg (Sugar Land)*

1998-2000 – Helen Wilk (Houston)

2000-2002 – Jack Gerrick (Fort Worth)

2002-2004 – Charles B. Hart (Temple)*

2004-2006 – Marvin Rich (Houston)

2006-2008 – Vickie Vogel (Austin)*

2008-2010 – Sally Drayer (Dallas)*

2010-2012 – Howard “Rusty” Milstein (Longview)*

2012-2014 – Marc Wormser (Pearland)*

2014-2015 – Debra “Debbie” Weingarten

2015-2017 – David Beer (Dallas)*

2017-2019 – Davie Lou Solka (Austin)*

2019-2021 – Susan Zack Lewis (Big Spring)*

* Living past presidents serve on Board of Trustees

TJHS Bylaws

The Texas Jewish Historical Society was established on January 26, 1980 at the First Gathering of interested persons, held in San Antonio. On February 15, 1980, the Texas Secretary of State issued Charter #509732 incorporating the Texas Jewish Historical Society, Inc.

Past Annual Gatherings and Board Meetings

wdt_ID YEAR WINTER MEETING SPRING MEETING SUMMER MEETING FALL MEETING
1 1980 SAN ANTONIO
First Gathering
January 26-27
2 1981 GALVESTON
2nd Annual Gathering
January 31 - February 1
3 1982 AUSTIN
3rd Annual Gathering
February 27-28
4 1983 DALLAS
4th Annual Gathering
February 12-13
5 1984 HOUSTON
5th Annual Gathering
February 12-13
6 1985 SAN ANTONIO
6th Annual Gathering
March 8-10
DALLAS
Board Meeting
May 19
HOUSTON
Board Meeting
September 21
AUSTIN
Board Meeting
December 15
7 1986 DALLAS
7th Annual Gathering
March 14-16
MARSHALL
Board Meeting
May 18
AUSTIN
Board Meeting
September 21
FORT WORTH
Board Meeting
December 14
8 1987 FORT WORTH
8th Annual Gathering
March 6-8
DALLAS
Board Meeting
May 17
AUSTIN
Board Meeting
June 12
HOUSTON
Board Meeting
September 20
9 1988 AUSTIN
9th Annual Gathering
March 4-6
DALLAS
Board Meeting
May 15
MARSHALL
Board Meeting
August 21
AUSTIN
Board Meeting
December 11
10 1989
JEFFERSON
10th Annual Gathering
AUSTIN
Board Meeting
June 11
FORT WORTH
Board Meeting
August 27
GALVESTON
Board Meeting
December 10
YEAR WINTER MEETING SPRING MEETING SUMMER MEETING FALL MEETING