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Bernie Sigalove, 97; instrumental inspiration to Temple Israel

Mr. Sigalove and his wife moved to Centerville on Cape Cod in the 1980s.

Mr. Sigalove and his wife moved to Centerville on Cape Cod in the 1980s.

In years past, after a week of working six days and two evenings at his Natick furniture store, Bernie Sigalove headed straight to Temple Israel, where he would cook, clean, paint, act in a play, or do whatever else was needed.

“It was really his second home and he was committed to making sure there was a Jewish presence in the Natick area,” said his daughter Ellen Bernardi of Scituate.

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The Sigaloves were among the 18 founding families of the temple, and Mr. Sigalove used his business connections from his furniture store to help secure funding for a synagogue, his daughter said.

“Over the years, I have shared stories with the congregation about how 18 Jewish families, in the closing days of the Second World War, held High Holiday services on the condemned third floor of the Knights of Columbus building in downtown Natick,” Rabbi Daniel Liben wrote in a tribute published in the temple’s June/July newsletter.

“Praying under the shadow of a portrait of Monsignor Delaney,” Liben wrote, “Bernie and several others decided that the time had come for the Jewish community to have a home that they could call their own.”

Mr. Sigalove, who was the last surviving founding member of Temple Israel, died May 19 in South Shore Hospital. He was 97.

Bernardi said her father’s devotion to his faith stemmed from the influence of his mother, the former Anne Righter.

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Born Charles Sigalove, he grew up in Worcester where his mother, a homemaker, kept a religious household, emphasizing family and tradition.

His father, David, “was a typesetter, who worked very hard and late into the night,” Liben wrote in his tribute, adding that “Bernie also learned from his parents a love of Yiddishkeit, Jewish life and practice.”

Yiddish was spoken in Mr. Sigalove’s boyhood home, where he was the youngest of three siblings, Liben wrote, and “Bernie loved the language his whole life, and he sprinkled his daily life with its flavor.”

Mr. Sigalove and his wife, the former Edithe Knoff, “had a ritual, for many years, whenever they got in the car,” Liben wrote. “They would look at each other and one of them would say in Yiddish, ‘Go in good way.’ ”

Mr. Sigalove had hoped to attend rabbinical school in Boston, his daughter said, but finances were tight so he found a job at a furniture store in Natick, initially commuting there from Worcester.

Bernardi said Mr. Sigalove’s mother also helped inspire his sense of humor. As a child, he watched his mother sit on the family’s front stoop, entertaining other women in the neighborhood with stories and jokes. He perfected his mother’s art for entertainment to the point that he liked to say he graduated from Worcester’s Classical High School with honors in humor and getting into trouble, his daughter said.

After moving to Natick, Mr. Sigalove married Evelyn Greenberg, whom he met when they were teenagers in Worcester. They raised three daughters and had been married 23 years when she died of ovarian cancer at age 46 in 1963.

Mr. Sigalove met Edithe Knoff, who also had been widowed, at a mutual friend’s home in Hull. Bernardi said they had been married for 41 years when she died in 2006.

Mr. Sigalove also formerly chaired the Natick School Committee. Bernardi said that although her father never graduated from college, he was committed to education.

After retiring from his furniture store in the early 1980s, Mr. Sigalove and his wife moved to Centerville on Cape Cod.

Despite his best intentions to slow down, he returned to work at a furniture store on Cape Cod six weeks after moving there, his daughter said.

While living in Centerville, Mr. Sigalove and his wife would return to Temple Israel in Natick for services on the high holidays, in the first two seats in the front row of the synagogue.

After Edithe died, Bernardi and Mr. Sigalove would drive to Natick for services. About once a year, she and Mr. Sigalove attended services held by Rabbi Harold Kushner, a prominent author who was the spiritual leader of Temple Israel for more than 25 years.

Bernardi remembered that when Kushner would shake her father’s hand and thank him for attending, he would say: “As long as you keep speaking, I’ll keep coming.”

Kushner spoke at Mr. Sigalove’s memorial service in Temple Israel on May 22.

Kushner and Mr. Sigalove had known each other for 47 years, since Mr. Sigalove picked up Kushner at the train station to bring him to his interview at Temple Israel.

At the funeral, Kushner said that through meeting and getting to know Mr. Sigalove, he truly understood how important the temple was to him and its significance to the community.

In addition to Bernardi, Mr. Sigalove leaves two other daughters, AnnJayne McCabe of Delray Beach, Fla., and Anita Aherne of Scituate; a stepdaughter, Joanie Linsky of Milford; a stepson, Phil Pruchansky of Framingham; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

Mr. Sigalove “and Edie blended their families into one amazing whole,” Liben wrote.

“Most important to Bernie, of course, was his family,” Liben said. “Bernie was the glue that held many things and many relationships together. He was the one to whom people could come with a problem, knowing that Bernie’s huge heart was always open.”

Lauren Dezenski can be reached at lauren.dezenski@globe.com.

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