But as he leaned over to read, he didn't begin a sermon or start chanting Hebrew trope.
Instead, Rabbi Ira F. Stone of Temple B'nai Zion-B'nai Israel in Center City helped a flock of children sound out a word.
"It's a big one," said the rabbi, gazing around at a sea of young faces. "Starts with a 'p.' "
Several dozen children — and their parents — gathered at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Rittenhouse Square last Thursday night, for the first of what will be four Jewish storybook readings there.
Sponsored by the Kehillah of Center City in conjunction with Barnes & Noble, the idea behind the series — now in its second year — is to bring local rabbis out into the community to read Jewish stories to young children.
The program is called "Pajama-Rama," since children are encouraged to wear their favorite sleepwear. They also top off each event with a snack of milk and (kosher) cookies.
According to Catherine Fischer, coordinator of the Kehillah, the readings are meant to provide a greater sense of community for Jewish families in town.
"The overriding goal is connecting families with young children together from all different places," she said. "We want to create more of a network for them."
Fischer added that the aim is also to help attendees, many of whom may be unaffiliated, feel more comfortable with local rabbis and their congregations.
She explained that the bookstore offers an "easy access" location for those who may be reticent to enter a synagogue.
"These kinds of public venues help us attract a lot of people, and help raise the profile of the Jewish community," attested Fischer. "We hope that once they come in, people will register, receive updates on our programs and stay connected."
Surrounded by kids in "Polly Pocket" and "Thomas the Tank Engine" pajama sets, Stone, himself a grandfather, agreed.
"It gives rabbis a different face," he said, after finishing up "Mrs. Katz and Tush," as well as "Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons." "It's just as important for the parents as for their kids."
And grandparents, too, added attendee Penina Gould, 75.
"I'm always looking for Jewish things to do with the kids," said the Center City resident, referring to granddaughters Liat, 9, and Ariel Rosov, 7. "Their parents are only too happy to have us babysit, and I appreciate having a reason to capture them for a night or two."
The next "Pajama-Rama" will be held Thursday, Aug. 9, and will feature Rabbi Avi Winokur and Cantor Neil Schnitzer of Society Hill Synagogue, children's author Staci J. Schwartz and a special appearance by "Clifford, the Big Red Dog." The theme that night will be animals.
On Dec. 9, Rabbi Ira S. Grussgott of Congregation Kesher Israel will continue the series with some Chanukah tales, and the year will end with Passover stories in April.