Sam Gotlib celebrated his 100th birthday in Florida. Here he is surrounded by his great-grandchildren Eitan Waltz, Alex Gotlib, Max Gotlib, Sophia Gotlib, Uriel Schmueli and Jacob Gotlib.
Sam Gotlib celebrated his 100th birthday in Florida. Here he is surrounded by his great-grandchildren Eitan Waltz, Alex Gotlib, Max Gotlib, Sophia Gotlib, Uriel Schmueli and Jacob Gotlib. (Gotlib Family)

The entire Detroit Jewish community is invited to the celebration on Aug. 21.

Sam Gotlib is about to receive the most memorable and lasting gift of his life in honor of his 100th birthday. His family has commissioned a Torah to be written in Israel and they will host a Hachnasat Sefer Torah (inauguration of a new Torah scroll) on Aug. 21 and the entire Detroit Jewish community is invited. 

“About a year or so ago, we started thinking about what we could do to mark this incredible milestone,” said Sam’s daughter-in-law, Joanne Gotlib of Southfield. “Not everyone turns 100 and we had to do something special. We came up with this idea to honor him and my mother-in-law, Muriel, who passed away in March 2019.”

Sam Gotlib, at 100, is being honored with a Torah by his family.
Sam Gotlib, at 100, is being honored with a Torah by his family. Gotlib Family

Sam Gotlib lived most of his life in Michigan. His parents immigrated from Poland to Toronto, where Sam was born in 1922. Later that same year, they moved to Flint. There they raised Sam, his older brother Ben and sister Sara. 

“Flint was a good place to grow up as a Jew back then; it had a significant Jewish population,” said Dr. Daniel Gotlib, Sam’s son and Joanne’s husband.

Muriel was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. While she was attending Hunter College, she won a scholarship to attend a summer semester at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. One of Muriel’s first friends in Ann Arbor noticed that she kept kosher and told her, “Guess what? There’s another person in town who eats funny like you! You have to meet her!” This friend introduced Muriel to Sara Gotlib, who took her home soon afterward for Shabbat and introduced Muriel to her brother Sam. 

“The rest was history,” Daniel said. Sam and Muriel wed in December 1946 and were happily married for 72 years. 

In Flint, they raised their three kids: Michael, Debbie and Daniel. 

“The wonderful Conservative synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, was central to the core of our family,” Daniel recalled. “We were always involved in the shul. My dad was the president. My mom was president of the sisterhood. She wrote programs, poetry, speeches and served on many committees. She was also a lifelong member of Hadassah and a huge supporter of Israel. In fact, to celebrate their 60th anniversary, they took us and our spouses to Israel. 

“My family’s lives were always centered around Torah and Israel and what it means to be Jewish, so what better way to honor my parents than with a Torah?”

Sam lived and worked as a dentist in Flint until he retired 30 years ago and moved to Florida. His children married and moved away, Debbie to Skokie, Ill., with her husband Jules Marks and Michael to Phoenix with his wife Sylvia. When Daniel married Joanne, they settled in Flint at first because Daniel had joined his father’s dental practice, but they moved to Southfield to be closer to the Jewish day schools in 1986. Daniel commuted to Flint until he retired in June 2022. 

“I’m the luckiest daughter-in-law in the whole world,” Joanne said. “I knew my in-laws longer than my own parents. My father-in-law is the most incredible person. I have so much fun with him.”

Most unusual is that each of Sam’s grandchildren feels special and close to him and his late wife.

“My mother was a prolific writer,” Daniel said. “She wrote the most beautiful letters to her grandchildren, offering advice, showing concern, giving inspiration. It led to such meaningful relationships.”

According to Joanne, Sam is a realist. “When we were sitting shivah for my mother-in-law, he was telling us frankly, ‘People are born, then they live and then they die’ and ‘When it’s your turn, it’s your turn,’” she said. “It reminded me of the song ‘Circle of Life.’”

Commissioned Torah at Kids’ B’nai Mitzvah

Things are really coming full circle now because the commissioned Torah will be on loan at Young Israel of Southfield and Sam’s great-grandson Max will be the first to read from it on his bar mitzvah on Parshat Noach, which falls on Oct. 28-29 of this year. Max considers it a huge honor to be the first. 

“In the next 10 years, we have four grandsons who will become b’nai mitzvah,” Daniel said. “What better legacy than for them to start their adult Jewish lives by reading from the Torah that was commissioned for their great-grandparents?”

Max practices for his bar mitzvah with great-grandfather Sam.
Max practices for his bar mitzvah with great-grandfather Sam. Gotlib Family

Once the Gotlibs decided how to commemorate Sam’s milestone birthday, they quickly realized that procuring a Torah was much more complicated than they’d thought. Their friends, Debbie and Avi Fox of Skokie helped them with the process. The Torah was bought from Israel to Michigan on July 21. 

The last 80 letters of the Torah have not yet been inscribed. Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis, a sofer (scribe) from Oak Park, will complete the honors on Aug. 21 at the celebration, which will begin at Ari and Shirli Gotlib’s home in Southfield. The entire community is welcome to join in the dancing and festivities as the Torah will be marched to Young Israel of Southfield under the chuppah in grand style. 

Sam will be attending, of course, as will his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

“Organizing this event has been so emotional,” Joanne shared. 

Sam’s actual birthday was Feb. 18, so his children and many of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren flew in to help him celebrate at his home in Century Village in Florida. 

“My father-in-law wrote his own speech and said a heartfelt Shehichiyanu, thanking God for his life and enabling him to reach this occasion,” Joanne said. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. It was an exceptional weekend.”

From the first celebration in Florida, four generations: Jacob Gotlib, Daniel Gotlib, Ari Gotlib, Alex Gotlib, Max Gotlib and Sam Gotlib.
From the first celebration in Florida, four generations: Jacob Gotlib, Daniel Gotlib, Ari Gotlib, Alex Gotlib, Max Gotlib and Sam Gotlib. Gotlib Family

Fun was had by all. The men wore customized ties for the occasion and the kids had color-in T-shirts. 

“At 100, my father doesn’t have any friends left; he’s outlived them all,” Daniel said. “So, it was especially meaningful for him to see the more than 50 relatives and friends who turned up to celebrate his remarkable long life.”

Sam is looking forward to Aug. 21.  

“He’s excited,” Daniel said. “He’s so touched and happy to know the legacy that he and my mom began is being continued, that their values and traditions live on.” 

How To Go:

Festivities for the Torah commemoration begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 21, at 22455 Chatsford Circuit in Southfield. The procession to Young Israel of Southfield starts at 11:45 a.m. with the celebration at 12:15 p.m. 

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