David Highiet, a founder of Temple Isaiah, dies

As a young man, David Highiet accompanied his Lithuanian-born father to collect donations for the Orthodox shul in Stockton. As an adult, he helped found Temple Isaiah in Lafayette and later chaired its finance and membership committees.

Highiet died April 16 in Walnut Creek, at age 82.

He was born in Stockton on March 14, 1924. His father was in the junk business.

While Highiet grew up Orthodox, he did not have any kind of Jewish education. His daughter Nancy Morse of Seattle said that he just learned the rules, without any explanation. This made itself apparent, for example, when he would berate anyone for eating pork, but had no clue that shellfish was not allowed either, she said, laughing. Not that his impoverished family in Stockton would have had access to any shrimp or mussels anyway.

At 18, he served in the Army Air Corps on an airbase near London. There he put his office skills to use, staying out of combat and working mostly in an officers’ club.

He married Elaine Phillips, whom he met at a wedding, on March 21, 1948. They first settled in Martinez and became part of the group that founded Temple Isaiah. That was the closest cluster of Jews they could find.

“It took forever to get to Sunday school,” remembered daughter Sheila Himmel of Palo Alto. “It was a long carpool.”

The Highiets later moved to Lafayette.

Temple Isaiah Rabbi Roberto Graetz noted that it was the Highiets who bought the first dishes for the temple’s social hall.

Shelley Waldenberg, rabbi emeritus of Temple Isaiah, said of Highiet, “He was among the founders who possessed the foresight and determination to purchase land where Temple Isaiah now stands.”

In the early years, Highiet also served as a para-rabbi in the community, meaning that he led some services and performed other rabbinic functions. He also helped establish the synagogue’s havurah, which Waldenberg said is still going strong after 33 years.

“He was a gentle, loving man to whom family and friends and Judaism meant everything,” said Waldenberg.

Morse described her father, who worked in the jewelry business, as a “’50s dad,” in that he was a businessman who found time to play catch with his athletic daughters. He also taught them how to play gin, and he enjoyed poker and golf.

Himmel added that her father’s traditional ways would occasionally come into play at the Reform synagogue — like the time he and another man threatened to leave over the introduction of an organ to services.

But the organ came and neither man left. “They just had to adjust,” said Himmel.

In addition to his wife, Elaine, and two daughters, Highiet is survived by four grandchildren.

Donations can be made to Temple Isaiah, 3800 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, CA 94549.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."