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Worthy of Celebration

Temple Beth El of Somerset

Cige Family Donates Prayer Books to Temple Beth El of Somerset

    Fred Cige was about 10 years old when his father put him on a train and said goodbye. Fred thought they were going on a family outing, so he was surprised his father didn’t board the train. It was the first time he had been separated from his parents, but it wouldn’t be the last.
    Fred and his younger brother Bert rode the train into the countryside, where they were met by a relative who took them in. The boys’ father was a tailor who owned a factory in Berlin, but it was Germany in the late 1930s, and they were Jewish. The parents thought their sons would be safer out in the country while they stayed in the city; Kristallnacht made them rethink their plans. The four of them fled to France, certain they would be safe there. It wasn’t long, however, before the Vichy government placed them in a concentration camp.
    Soon an agency sponsored by the Quakers took the children out of the camp and placed them in a church, then took them to Portugal where they boarded a ship to America. They reached Ellis Island where Fred, at the age of 12, was diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer. His brother went on ahead to an organization in upstate New York. while Fred was kept in the infirmary for a week. For Fred, all this was like a bad dream: now separated not only from his parents but also his brother, told he had some disease he didn’t know about, being held in a strange hospital by people whose language he didn’t understand. Then, when he rejoined his brother, the children were taken to a nearby synagogue for Friday night services where, upon entering the building, they were told to remove their hats. Fred was certain it was a church—but it turned out to be Fred’s first glimpse of a Reform temple.
    Fred and Bert were sent to live with several different foster families in the St. Louis area, and were able to go to school for the first time in several years. At the age of 12, Fred was placed in second grade and his younger brother in first grade, but they were quick learners, made steady progress, and began to learn American customs and traditions. Fred, whose birthday was October 31, was delighted to be invited to a big party he thought was in his honor, only to find out that was how Americans celebrate Halloween.
    Fred kept in touch with his parents, who were sent to three different concentration camps over the years, and when he was 21, his parents, and the three younger sisters he had never seen, came to America and settled in Brooklyn. They were eager to reunite the family, but Fred, after nine years in the Midwest, was now an adult who wanted to go to college and become an English professor. The love of family could not be denied, and he and Bert went to Brooklyn. Fred found work and enrolled at Brooklyn College part time. He married and, with two young children at home, began studies for his MBA from NYU, taking courses at night. Fred began working for MetroMedia in credit and collections. He was a vice president of the company by the time he retired 30 years later.
    Fred, his wife Sandy, and their children moved to Somerset in 1972, and the family immediately joined Temple Beth El. Fred and Sandy remained active and involved members of the temple to the end of their lives, and their two children, Brian Cige and Hillary Cige Post, continue as members today.
    At first, Fred was reluctant to speak about his Holocaust experiences. “He felt he wasn’t entitled to talk about it because he didn’t suffer as much compared to other survivors,” Brian says. “But he was a speaker at a Raritan Valley College event, and felt it was beneficial, so he then continued as a speaker and even did a video at the college.”
    Although working in the field of finance, Fred was still the English professor he had wanted to be years earlier. Fluent in seven languages, he was noted among his friends for his multilingual puns. He loved teaching, whether it was adult courses at Rutgers, as an adjunct at Montclair State, or teaching children about the Holocaust. Sandy volunteered at the Franklin Township Public Library and the Temple Beth El nursery school and Sisterhood. Together they amassed a large collection of books, many of them in several different languages.
    Sandy passed away in 2018, and when Fred died at the age of 91 in October 2021, his children wanted to do something special in their parents’ memory. They felt the combination of books and Temple Beth El exemplified their lives.
    “The temple was everything to them,” remembers Hillary. “It was the center of their social life and their commitment to Judaism. We thought donating books would be perfect for them.”
    At the suggestion of Rabbi Eli Garfinkel, the Cige family donated the recently published Conservative siddurs for the entire congregation. The books were dedicated at a Shabbat service in December, a lasting tribute that will be used every week. Sandy and Fred’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchild all attended the celebratory kiddush that followed, enjoying the company of the congregation. For a Holocaust survivor, spreading Judaism through speaking and teaching, and now through providing books that will guide Jewish prayer and worship for years to come, was worthy of celebration.  


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