Bay area psychologist Hilda Kessler dies at 79


Hilda Kessler, a San Francisco Bay Area clinical psychologist and pro-Israel activist, died at her Berkeley, Calif., home, Nov. 20, at 79 after a long struggle with cancer. The following item is adapted from an article sent to the Eulogizer by Kessler’s daughter-in-law, Eve, a New York journalist:

Kessler maintained a clinical practice in Berkeley from 1979 almost to the end of her illness. She also practiced psychotherapy in Palo Alto from 1975 to 2006.


An authority on couples therapy, Kessler edited the textbook, “Treating Couples,” for a series under the guiding editorship of Stanford Professor Irvin D. Yalom. She was a member of the clinical faculty of Berkeley’s Wright Institute and lectured at San Francisco State University and San Jose State University.

Kessler was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on June 6, 1932, the youngest child of Yosef and Chaya Waxman, immigrant Orthodox Jews who owned a paper goods business. Her parents, who had met and married in Mandatory Palestine, took young Hilda and her two sisters to live in Jaffa in 1934, but the family left after the Arab riots in 1936 and returned to New York.

Kessler attended Seward Park High School and Brooklyn College. She married Seymour Kessler, a young American soldier she had met as a teen in the Bnai Akiva Zionist youth group, in 1953.  Two sons, Chanan and Zev, followed in 1955 and 1958.

The Kesslers moved to Palo Alto in 1965 so that Seymour, a geneticist, could take a post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford University. Hilda enrolled as an undergraduate at Stanford and earned a BA degree in 1968. She earned a PhD in psychology from the Wright Institute in 1978. Kessler also studied the psychology of cults with Dr. Margaret Singer and the Feldenkrais Method with Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. She had an interest in combining the insights of the body therapy movements with those of psychotherapy.

In recent years, Kessler and her husband, lifelong Zionists with much family in Israel, started a nonprofit organization, Bridges to Israel-Berkeley, in order to provide support for Israeli victims of Arab terrorism and a forum for pro-Israel speakers and analysts of Middle East politics. The group materially supports many families of individuals maimed in terrorism incidents.

Kessler was a member of Congregation Netivot Shalom, Berkeley’s Conservative synagogue. In her spare time, she had a passion for collecting fine art by Jewish artists and with Jewish themes. She also had a lifelong interest in classical music and was renowned locally for her gourmet cooking and stylish table. Kessler hosted many gatherings devoted to Jewish learning and other intellectual topics at her Berkeley hills home. She was a board member of Lehrhaus Judaica, the Bay Area’s Jewish adult-learning program, and a docent at the Judah Magnus Museum in Berkeley.

Kessler is survived by her husband, Seymour, her sons Chanan and Zev, and five grandchildren.

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at

Recommended from JTA