Bedtime story from rabbi makes for a unique auction item

Reading to children is one of life’s small yet significant pleasures. Snuggling up, sharing the enjoyment of a well-told story, discovering life lessons in a comfortable and age-appropriate setting are especially important in our fast-paced, high-tech culture.

Like so many others, Kristen and Greg Heiden’s two young children listen to bedtime stories every night.

But unlike other families, the Heidens recently had a special event in their Dublin home: “Bedtime Stories with Rabbi Katz.”

Rabbi David Katz makes a house call and reads bedtime stories to Harlow.

In February, Rabbi David Katz of Congregation Beth Emek in Pleasanton offered this original and unusual auction item for the temple’s second annual fundraiser, Gelt For Good.

Among the more than 60 items up for bid — including restaurant meals, jewelry and 14 pounds of freshly picked fruit from a congregant’s trees — “Bedtime Stories with Rabbi Katz” generated a great deal of interest. The bidding  in a silent auction started at $50 and kept going up, but because Kristen “thought it would be a memorable experience,” the Heidens persevered and won it with a bid of $250, which helped the event raise $22,000.

Greg said their children, 5-year-old Jordan and 3-year-old Harlow, “are fascinated by the rabbi.” In addition to seeing him each week at the Beth Emek preschool Shabbat, the children regularly attend the congregation’s monthly tot Shabbat service.

The idea for the bedtime stories came to Katz as a result of his reflections on and research into the intersection of public and private space — and the social intimacy it presents.

Rabbi Katz reads to Jordan

“As a public figure, going into a congregant’s home and getting to know them is a special event in their life,” he said, especially in a space as private as a bedroom.

Rabbi Katz admitted that going into the Heidens’ home was an interesting role reversal: While he usually leads others in a ritual, he followed the family’s lead and took part in the children’s bedtime routine.

The pajama-clad Jordan and Harlow welcomed him into their bedroom, along with their parents. The rabbi pulled up a chair and took out his books. But the Heiden children had a few of their own, including “Bim and Bom: A Shabbat Tale.” Though a bit reticent at first, Jordan and Harlow warmed up quickly and listened to the rabbi tell one story and read six books — all but one with a Jewish theme.

The rabbi and the Heidens agreed it was a wonderful and very special experience. Greg called it “a real treat” for his children.

However, it appears that “Bedtime Stories with Rabbi Katz” will be a one-time-only occurrence. Katz is leaving the congregation, his two-year contract as interim rabbi concluding at the end of this month. He has not announced his future plans yet.

Rabbi Laurence Milder, who officially begins next week, might want to brush up on his story-time skills. A win-win precedent seems to have been set.

Rabbi Laurence Milder
to take over at Congregation Beth Emek