2017-11-08 / Home

Community mourns loss of Harriet Kessler, Voice editor 1985-2009

By DAVID PORTNOE Voice Editor
HARRIET KESSLER

The Southern New Jersey Jewish community is mourning the loss of Harriet Kessler, editor of the Jewish Community Voice for 24 years who passed away on Oct. 29 at the age of 83. She was the force behind the Voice for a generation, and her impact on the paper was unquestioned, as was her devotion to the Southern New Jersey Jewish community.

A fixture of the Southern New Jersey Jewish community since becoming editor in 1985 until her retirement as editor in 2009, she remained active following retirement as a longtime member of Cong. M’kor Shalom as well as by taking classes at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill.

Joel Schwartz, president of the Voice Board, said that it was obvious to everyone who knew Harriet that she cared deeply for the Voice and the South Jersey Jewish community. During her 24 years as Voice editor, she devoted everything she could to serve this community. He added that she would be greatly missed by many people.

“Harriet was an incredible hard working, intelligent and independent soul,” said Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey CEO Jennifer Dubrow Weiss, who noted that Kessler helped build the Voice into the respected newspaper it is today. Weiss also spoke about her devotion to the Federation, its agencies and the entire Southern New Jersey Jewish community. “She helped shape our community and navigate us through times of joy, difficulties and sorrow. Harriet knew exactly what was needed and necessary in every situation and fought to make sure she attained the highest standards of professionalism, integrity and accomplishment.”

Stuart Alperin, a past Federation executive vice president, said that although the Voice had been published for many years, it was Harriet who brought it into the modern era. “Before Harriet, The Voice primarily served as a house organ for the Federation. Harriet turned it into a first class Jewish community newspaper. She created a professional looking masthead; changed the look of Page 1; expanded coverage of Israel and international news; deepened editorial quality; and created Page 3 to highlight local news.”

Alperin also spoke about Kessler’s business acumen and her ability to create a paper of interest to the reader, but one that was profitable as well. “During her tenure as editor, the Voice returned many thousands of dollars which Federation allocated annually to enhance local community services,” said Alperin.

The 1980s were a time of tremendous change in the Jewish community, noted Alperin. He pointed to Federation purchasing ground for the new Jewish Community Campus and synagogues moving eastward. “Much was happening locally and throughout the world and Jews turned to the Voice for honest, up-to-date information. The Voice had been reborn and continues to today as one of America’s leading Jewish community newspapers.”

Alperin added that it was the vision and tireless effort of Harriet Kessler that helped Southern New Jersey become the vibrant and sophisticated community that it is. “We all owe her our thanks.”

Joel Kaber, who followed Alperin as Federation executive, said that Kessler had boundless energy. “Harriet was one of those people that age was just a number. As evidence of that, she launched Attitudes, the magazine, late in her career.

“She had a great sense of humor, including the ability to laugh at herself,” said Kaber, who also noted Kessler’s eclectic and sophisticated tastes in music and literature. “She also had a common touch. She had a great way of speaking to people and turning it into a good story.”

Upon her retirement, Kessler reflected on her career. She noted that editing the Voice afforded her many special experiences.

“I went to Israel many times on behalf of the paper and became familiar with Israel in a unique way,” she said. On one trip, she covered then Jewish Community Relations Council Director Alan Respler’s mission to Israel with Congressmen Jim Saxton and Rob Andrews.

“I sat in Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s study a year before his assassination,” reflected Kessler. She recalled that elderly female assistants served tea and cookies during the meeting. “It was the most hamisch thing imaginable,” said Kessler, who kept a photo from the experience on her desk until her retirement.

Kessler became editor of the Voice in 1985 from her previous position as assistant director of the Philadelphia Jewish Federation’s communications department. Born in Queens, New York, she attended Queens College and received her Master of Arts degree in Linguistics from Columbia University.

Her children, Perry and Sybil, said she loved to cook and entertain guests, attend the symphony and theater, read a good book, and participate in movie and book clubs, along with her long-time dinner discussion group. They added that she was a fan of a good pun, sapphire martinis, and world travel.

Harriet Kessler (nee Zimmerman), of Cherry Hill, is survived by Perry and Lara Kessler, Sybil and Joel Sanchez; and her three grandchildren, Sam and Zak Kessler, and Shprintzy Sanchez, all of whom brought her great joy. She is also survived by her remaining niece, nephew, cousins, and extended family. She is predeceased by her sister, Fran Mayberry.

Donations in her memory may be made to the ACLU. 

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