Fifteenth Keter Shem Tov Honoring Arlene Gottlieb                                                      


                                                                                                               History of Keter Shem Tov in Arlene's own words

“Keter shem tov” means the crown of a good name.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai said:  “There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty, but the crown of a good name is above them all.” (Pirkei Avot 4:13)   Please join us on Saturday, May 21, 2016 as we honor Arlene Gottlieb with the Keter Shem Tov Award.  It is fitting that we honor her with this special award because her good name is closely linked with Judaism and Mishkan Torah.

Arlene grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey and came to the Washington, D.C. area in 1969 to attend college.  She graduated from American University in 1973 with a degree in literature.  One day, several years later, Arlene was playing volleyball at Mitchell Park in Washington when a man named Chaz Miller joined the game. Arlene was attracted to the butterfly tattoo on Chaz’s shoulder but, unfortunately, the volleyball season was ending. So Arlene didn’t see Chaz again until the next summer when volleyball resumed.  They exchanged phone numbers then, but Chaz didn’t call.  So Arlene called him.  According to Arlene, she woke him up.  Although Chaz  thought he dreamt the conversation with her, they finally got together for a movie.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Arlene and Chaz married in October 1979 in her parents’ backyard in Teaneck. (Arlene tells me that Chaz sang “Going to the chuppah and we’re going to get married” to anyone who would listen that day.)  The Rabbi who married them requested that Chaz sign a paper saying that he would raise their children Jewish.  In 1989, when their daughter Naomi reached third grade, Chaz reminded Arlene that she—the Jewish parent—needed to find a synagogue.  Arlene wanted to make sure that any synagogue she chose would be a place where Chaz would also feel comfortable. She checked with some very good friends who were already members of Mishkan Torah.  They were happy there, so Arlene decided to check out Mishkan Torah one Friday night.  Unfortunately, she drove in the wrong direction and never got there.  Fortunately, one week later, she made the right turns. And Arlene found Mishkan Torah, “a home away from home.  It just felt right.” 

Arlene had learned the importance of Judaism and volunteering at an early age.  Her mother, Rita, had “worked” for many different Jewish groups and had been named Woman of the Year by Rita’s chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women.  So it’s not surprising that Arlene continued in her mother’s tradition after joining Mishkan Torah.  One Sunday morning, she was talking to Saul Oresky, “kvetching” (her word) about something to do with the school.  Saul “uttered the immortal words—why don’t you join the Ed Committee and then you can do something about it.”  Arlene did. And she was off and running.

One could write a book just talking about everything Arlene has done at and for Mishkan Torah. Among her roles through the years: Co-Chair and Chair of the Children’s Ed Committee; B’nai Mitzvah Coordinator; synagogue Vice-President for Programs; Sisterhood Treasurer and liaison with the Karp Family School; Ways and Means Chair; active member of the Religious, Social Action, Ways and Means and Finance Committees and the Choir; creator of beautiful event flyers and program books; and enthusiastic performer in many of the skits, roasts and performances that are a Mishkan Torah tradition.  The list could go on and on.  But let’s look at just a few of her accomplishments.

Arlene has been Mishkan Torah’s Financial Secretary for many years, a job she is particularly proud of.  She has recruited and worked in the office with “terrific bookkeepers” to help make sure our financial records are organized and accurate. But she sees her job as going far beyond the numbers and books.  The people that those numbers represent are her biggest interest and concern. Arlene often becomes the face of Mishkan Torah for prospective members as she discusses membership and dues. She feels that “it’s very important to give people the opportunity to be a member and pay what they can afford to pay.” She extends that philosophy to current members as well, to assure that no one leaves Mishkan Torah because of personal financial issues.  Arlene makes a special effort to keep in contact with members and to help when needed. She does all this behind-the-scenes, with her special touch of compassion and sensitivity.

Arlene also plays a vital role in many aspects of our religious life.  When she joined Mishkan Torah, Arlene had already been raised Jewish, had a bat mitzvah, knew how to read Hebrew and could follow the service.  She has blossomed since then, learning many new skills. Arlene’s  beautiful renditions of Torah and Haftarah portions enrich our Shabbat mornings and special Services. She frequently serves as Calling Gabbai and now mentors others as they learn how to conduct the Torah service.

Arlene serves on the Honors Committee for the High Holidays, helping to match congregants’ wishes, skills and schedules with the honors available. She personally prepares the Yizkor Book each year and goes out of her way to assure that our loved ones are properly remembered.  And, of course, no one can miss Arlene going up and down the aisles during all the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Services.  Some of us have likened her to the Energizer Bunny, never stopping, handing out honors on the fly and making sure that those of us already assigned honors know exactly what to do.

When asked about her proudest accomplishment at Mishkan Torah, Arlene immediately said “creating Keter Shem Tov.” This award and day is her “baby.”  Arlene created Keter Shem Tov about fifteen years ago to honor our members who have done so much for Mishkan Torah.  She has been its driving force ever since. It’s hard to describe all Arlene does to make this event  happen. Working closely with each honoree to determine dates, aliyahs and honors, guests and menus. Sending invitations and writing articles. Creating a beautiful flyer. Collecting memories and pictures for the Memory/Program book she prepares every year.  Working with Sisterhood, Choir and others who contribute to making Keter Shem Tov a special day.  Coordinating everything. It’s an enormous job.  Arlene always accomplishes it with warmth and a can-do attitude that makes honorees and their guests feel very special.   

Arlene has contributed her time and talents to so many different facets of our Mishkan Torah community. But she still finds time to enjoy other aspects of her life. Arlene is a Special Ed Paraeducator at Highland View Elementary School, close to her home in Silver Spring. It’s a job she clearly loves. And the children love her.  They greet her when she walks with her dog Ginger and flock to her house at Halloween. (It’s hard to miss that house, with spiders that go up and down the wall and a flying pig).  Arlene enjoys those long walks with Ginger, baking her delicious challot for Shabbat and holidays, and, of course, mah jongg.  A member of Mishkan Torah’s “Mah Jongg Maniacs,” she is a dedicated and enthusiastic mah jongg player.  Arlene even showed up at our Megillah reading one year “dressed” as a mah jongg tile!Family is very important to Arlene. She always has pictures to show and stories to tell about  Naomi and Joshua, their spouses Nathan and Lauren, and grandchildren Millie and Owen.  And three-year old Milly and eighteen-month old Owen have even joined us on the bima on Shabbat!  But Arlene could not have accomplished all that she has at Mishkan Torah without the love and support of her husband Chaz.  In many ways, he is the behind-the-scenes partner in her efforts, giving her the space and time to do all she does.

This year’s flyer for Keter Shem Tov calls Arlene our Wonder Woman and she truly is.  Over the years, we’ve recognized her accomplishments with the Mishkan Torah President’s Award and the Reconstructionist Movement’s Judith and Ira Eisenstein Service Award. But, more than her accomplishments, Arlene is a very special person.  Her personality shines through in everything she does. Thoughtful and considerate, she is always available to listen and to provide advice, suggestions and help.  Fun-loving, she brightens our days.  Her warm and welcoming manner quickly changes acquaintances into friends and even honorary members of the extended Gottlieb-Miller family. We are very lucky that Arlene made the right turns in Greenbelt so many years ago and found a lasting “home” at Mishkan Torah.

It is not the place that honors the people, but the people that honor the place. Arlene has truly honored Mishkan Torah.  Let’s show her how much she means to us.  The Service will be beautiful. Sisterhood will provide delicious catering. And—since Arlene is a valued member of the Choir and the Mishkan Torah “players”—we anticipate memorable performances from both groups. Make your reservations early.  You can use the reservation spreadsheet immediately below.  In addition, if you have pictures or a story about Arlene you would like to share with us in the Program Book, please send it by May 4 to  May 21 will be a truly special day!


Reservations for Keter Shem Tov honoring Arlene Gottlieb