Remembering Casi Kushel, specialist in cross-cultural adoptions

A sought-after marriage, family, and child therapist, she specialized in cross-cultural adoptions and diversity work.

Casi Kushel, July 7, 1943 – Jan. 3, 2021 

Casi was a quintessential Berkeley activist, passionate about giving voice to the needs of those who couldn’t advocate for themselves. There were so many marches, causes, and campaigns she joined. A sought-after marriage, family, and child therapist, she specialized in cross-cultural adoptions and diversity work. A consultant for Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay, she was particularly passionate about helping refugee and immigrant families. She taught, trained, supervised and led diversity and anger management seminars for decades. Her desire to right wrongs everywhere took her to Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2003 where she joined a team helping to support the House of Flowers Orphanage, a Montessori-based home and school for 20-30 destitute and traumatized children. Her trauma-based protocol using culturally sensitive finger puppets has become a gold standard and frequently replicated technique. Stories about her and their adventures were published in Healing Afghanistan: Hope for the Children of War by Judy Duchesne-Peckham.

Casi was born in 1943 to Helen and Harold Kushel in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She grew up in the shadow of her dad’s pharmacy. Her home was filled with the refrains of musical theater and rehearsals for community theater. Her younger sister Bree James and she were often pulled into joining the performances. Educated at Bard, Drew and Rutgers, she trained as a family therapist at Cal State Hayward and was dedicated to protecting those who can’t always speak for themselves. Casi’s activism began early — her involvement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) led her to register Black voters in Georgia during the civil rights movement and it continued after her move to Berkeley in 1973. While a writer with Bantam Books, she became involved with Angela Davis and Erica Huggins. It was a particular point of pride for her that at one point she was able to peacefully intervene and de-escalate what had all the markings of an incipient gunfight between some Black Panthers and police.

Berkeley remained Casi’s spiritual home even after moving through the tunnel to Walnut Creek. Always a bit superstitious, she was very pleased to have turned 77 on July 7 last year and had a party to celebrate this accomplishment. She died after a brief, unexpected illness on Jan 3. Definitely a party girl, Casi loved to dance and knew how to throw a doo! Everything was always beautifully presented and arranged and good food and drink abounded. She enjoyed antiques, Japanese art, animals, theater, Buddhist meditation, green tea, good wine, beautiful clothing and silk scarves. She loved to travel, read, learn and laugh, and most of all, have deep conversations with friends.

As expressed by her eldest daughter Devin Grayson (a fiction writer perhaps best known for being the first woman to write the Batman series for DC Comics), Casi had a “bottomless capacity for reverence and delight. When engaged with someone or something that excited her, the glow of her attention was so warm and bright you’d find yourself instantly as enthralled with the subject at hand as she was.”

Casi was a force of nature, an intensely loyal, beloved friend, a  loving wife, (survived by Frank Nagelmann), mother, to Devin (Arnold Feener), Jesse and Max (Rebecca Galvan) and a devoted grandmother to David Griffin and Ethan and Julian Nagelmann.

A private celebration of her life will take place on July 11. The family and her friends have established a fund in her name at Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay to continue her work with immigrant families. Contributions in her name can be made here or by contacting Dr. Jessica Broitman at jess@doctorjess.org.

I was lucky enough to call Casi my best friend for 27 years. She touched the lives of so many and definitely left the world a better place for her presence. Her memory will be forever a blessing. She would sign her messages with “Let there be Peace. Let there be healing.” Amen.