Hyman Judah Schachtel, Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, Houston, son of Bernard and Janie (Spector) Schachtel, was born in London, England, on May 24, 1907. When he was seven years old, his family sailed to America aboard the Lusitania and settled in Buffalo, New York, where his father was a cantor. Schachtel won numerous oratorical contests throughout his school years and soon was drawn to the Rabbinate. While earning his B.A. at the University of Cincinnati, he entered Hebrew Union College nearby and was ordained a reform rabbi in 1931. From 1931 to 1943 he was rabbi of West End Synagogue in New York City, and from 1943 to 1975 he was chief rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, continuing there as rabbi-at-large for the remainder of his life. Shortly after coming to Houston he also served as the Jewish chaplain at Ellington Air Force Base (1944–45). He delivered the inaugural prayer for President Lyndon B. Johnson in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 1965. With some graduate credits earned earlier at Columbia University in New York, Rabbi Schachtel completed his doctorate in education at the University of Houston (1948). He received an honorary doctorate in the humanities from Southwestern University in Georgetown (1955) and an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Hebrew Union College (1958). During his years in Houston he lectured and taught courses in philosophy, theology, history, and Judaism at the University of Houston, St. Mary's Catholic Seminary, the Institute of Religion, and the University of St. Thomas. From 1970 to 1971 he was chairman of the Subcommittee on Education for the Governor's Commission on Human Relations. Rabbi Schachtel worked for interfaith understanding. He was awarded the Coronat Medal from St. Edward's University (1963), was honored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews (1975), and received the Human Relations Award from the Houston Chapter/American Jewish Committee (1975), the Humanitarian Award from B'nai B'rith (1975), and distinguished alumnus awards from both the University of Houston (1977) and its College of Education Alumni Association (1982). Rabbi Schachtel and a colleague were honored in 1982 with the establishment of the Kahn/Schachtel Scholarship Fund for Christian scholars to pursue advanced degrees in Judaism at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. In 1987 he was presented the Ima Hogg Award from the Mental Health Association of Houston and Harris County for distinguished service in mental health. And in 1991, in tribute to an esteemed colleague and adjunct professor of religion, the Rabbi Hyman J. Schachtel Memorial Symposium was established by the Institute of Religion at the Texas Medical Center to bring Jewish philosophers and theologians to the institute for annual lectures and seminars.
Schachtel held terms of office as president of the Houston Rabbinical Association and Texas Kallah of Rabbis, as a member of the executive board of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and vice president and secretary-treasurer of its southwestern region, and as a member of the Board of Overseers of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He was a member of United Fund's National Planning Board and a trustee of the United Fund of Harris County, the Houston Salvation Army, Houston Chapter/American Red Cross, DePelchin Faith Home, and Harris County Mental Health Association. He also served on the boards of the Houston Symphony Society, Houston Grand Opera, San Jacinto Girl Scouts Council, Houston Heart Association, and the National Foundation for Ileitis and Colitis. For more than twenty years he was actively involved with Houston Metropolitan Ministries as an executive committee and board member. His contribution of time, energy, and wisdom to HMM's Jail Chaplaincy/Prisoner Services Program was of particular importance and followed three-year's experience on the board of the Houston Crime Commission. In 1982 he was elected president of the Community Service Option Program, which arranges for minor offenders to serve the community instead of being imprisoned. He continued this strong connection as a board member. Rabbi Schachtel was a member of the Texas Philosophical Society, Phi Delta Kappa, Phi Epsilon Pi, and the Kiwanis Club. In 1987 he became president of the National Organization of Retired Reform Rabbis.
Schachtel married Barbara Levin on October 15, 1941, and they had two children. Barbara Schachtel earned her Ph.D. in Behavioral Science at the University of Texas School of Public Health and became director of Quality Assurance for the Institute for Preventive Medicine, Methodist Hospital, chairman of the board of managers of the Harris County Hospital District, a member of the board of the Texas Medical Center, and a trustee of the Institute of Religion.
Rabbi Schachtel's genuine love of people was communicated in his preaching, pastoral work, and his community involvement. He struck a responsive chord, as well, in his books and music through a weekly radio program on KODA-FM and a column, Reflections, which appeared weekly in the Houston paper, the Jewish Herald Voice. The often quoted thought, "Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have," was originally written in his book, The Real Enjoyment Of Living (1954). Among his other published works are The Life You Want To Live (1956), The Shadowed Valley (1962), and How To Meet The Challenge Of Life And Death (1980). Among his compositions are the Alma Mater of Hebrew Union College, liturgical music for two Sabbath worship services, and five hymns. In speaking of his father from the Beth Israel pulpit in May 1975, Bernard Schachtel said, "One of his truly noble virtues is the balance, the support, he has brought to our crazy changing world: his ideals, his sense of honor and values, his love of family. In the midst of change, my father has given all of us a sense of the basics of life." Hyman Judah Schachtel died on January 11, 1990.