Tobie Schwebel Kessler was known as a natural-born leader.
Tobie Schwebel Kessler was known to think outside the box.
“I kind of said in her eulogy that she was YOLO” — for “you only live once” — “before anyone even talked about that,” her daughter, Lynne Lechter, joked. “She was definitely outside of the box before it became a cliché.”
Kessler passed away on Jan. 7 at the age of 97 at the Abramson Center for Jewish Life, where she had stayed for about two and a half years.
Kessler was from Troy, N.Y., where she was a member of Beth Tephilah Synagogue and Temple Beth El, both of which were co-founded by her parents.
She moved to Philadelphia in 1952 with her husband, the late Herman Kessler ha-Kohen, where she worked at an elementary school as an executive assistant to the principal.
She later joined Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood.
Lechter said her mother was always renowned for her beauty, appearing in several television ads, and was also a natural-born leader.
“My mom was an extraordinary person,” she said. “She used her skill and her charming personality to succeed. She was so accomplished and so talented, and yet she had this fun side to her as well.”
Kessler was the president of the Troy chapter of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, and then executive vice president of the Philadelphia chapter.
Lechter and most of her family continue in those footsteps as Hadassah members as well.
Kessler was active in politics, serving as a committeewoman in Upper Merion for more than 20 years and on the leadership council for Montgomery County Republican Women.
She was also a key benefactor for the Montgomery County Community College Foundation, becoming a member of the board of trustees in the early ’90s until her retirement in 2002.
Charity and family were the two biggest parts of her life, said Lechter, who continues to fund organizations that her mother supported, such as Israel Tennis Centers, Montgomery County Community College Foundation, Abramson Center for Jewish Life and Jewish National Fund.
“The philanthropy is something I was always raised with,” Lechter said. “That was just a part of our lives.”
Judaism was a big part of their lives, too.
Lechter said she always had the “religious gene,” becoming a Bat Mitzvah, getting confirmed and earning a scholarship to Gratz College while in high school.
However, her parents still let her sing Christmas carols in her high school choir.
Lechter recently asked her mother why she allowed it.
“She said, ‘I knew how strong you were in your feelings for Judaism, so what’s the harm in a few songs?’ ” Lechter recalled. “She had a wonderful outlook, I think, on people; she was very inclusive.”
Additionally, she said her mother was always supportive of everything she and her late sister, Beth Kessler Waasdorp, did.
“She led a very full life, with great tragedy as well,” she added.
Funeral services were held in Troy at both Temple Beth El and Beth Tephilah Cemetery, where Kessler is buried.
Kessler is survived by Lechter, three grandchildren and their spouses, six great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.
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