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Atlanta mourns shul president, slain in office shooting rampage

ATLANTA, Aug. 3 (JTA) — It was a blisteringly hot Thursday afternoon. Allen Charles Tenenbaum’s weekend was shaping up the way it usually did, as a time for family, synagogue and rest. After blessing his three children, he’d enjoy a relaxed Shabbat dinner. The family would attend Saturday morning services at Congregation Or VeShalom here, where Tenenbaum was president. On Sunday, they’d head to Myrtle Beach, S.C., hoping to escape Atlanta’s heat. Tenenbaum, a gentle man, could not have imagined the demons that had driven Mark Barton to slaughter his own family and embark on a murderous rampage that would leave nine others dead that afternoon before taking his own life. The 48-year-old Tenenbaum never came home to his wife, Debra, and children. He was slain that afternoon by Barton at All-Tech Investment Group in Atlanta’s fashionable Buckhead district. Atlanta reeled in horror at its third mass shooting in three months. Closer to home, Tenenbaum’s family and Atlanta’s Jewish community were jolted from summer languor to a disbelief that yielded to grief. Sweat mingled with the tears of more than 500 people — from teens in sandals to bearded Orthodox men — who attended Tenenbaum’s graveside funeral last Friday. An unusually large crowd of worshipers sought comfort at Shabbat morning services at Or VeShalom, where, for the first time in nearly two years, Tenenbaum did not rise from his pulpit seat with a smile to wish the Sephardic congregation “Shabbat shalom” and announce births and deaths. Sunday morning, about 600 people returned to the synagogue to mourn the loss of a man who adored his family as much as he was adored by many friends. Tenenbaum had found his life’s work in unlikely places. He was a Jewish grocery store owner in a down-at-the-heels black neighborhood, an Ashkenazi Jew who led a Sephardi synagogue. Stunned customers stopped at the Great Savings Grocery in the aftermath of the shooting to post condolences on white paper taped outside the store. Tenenbaum was a man, friends and employees have said, who would extend credit to customers or fix a sandwich for someone who was hungry. Tenenbaum had worked for Neil Galanti’s family grocery more than two decades ago. He did accounting for a year and grew close to Or VeShalom families like Galanti’s, whose Sephardi family had come to Atlanta from the island of Rhodes and from Turkey. Though Tenenbaum’s family belonged to Congregation Shearith Israel, a Conservative Ashkenazi synagogue in the city’s Morningside neighborhood, he and his wife, Debra Fox Tenenbaum, joined Or VeShalom 16 years ago. “It seemed somewhat odd that he’d join a synagogue he didn’t grow up in,” but the couple felt so much at home there, Galanti said. Tenenbaum was born in Atlanta and graduated in 1964 from the Greenfield Hebrew Academy, the day school where two of his daughters are students. After graduating high school in 1969, he attended the University of Georgia, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1973. He had served on Or VeShalom’s board for about 10 years and been a vice president for several years. News travels fast in such a close-knit group— and many Or VeShalom members knew that Tenenbaum had been killed before official reports confirmed it. During the confusion and frantic evening hours of July 26 when it was unclear who lived or had died, friends and congregants were already offering support. Many had recognized Debra Tenenbaum on television after a station aired harrowing footage of her anxiously seeking her husband who had not answered repeated calls to his cell phone. That night, authorities confirmed that Tenenbaum was among those day traders killed at All-Tech. Tenenbaum had opened an All-Tech day-trading account in June 1998, said Franklin Ogele, All-Tech’s associate general counsel. “He had lots of business interests,” said Dr. Jeff Baumrind, a dentist who golfed with Tenenbaum and considered him his best friend. “It was just a little thing to try to make some money.” Tenenbaum had stopped at All-Tech that morning to make some trades, and Baumrind said he was surprised that Tenenbaum had returned later in the day. Steve Berman, a long-time friend and running buddy, said he and Tenenbaum occasionally discussed the stock market while watching their daughters play sports. “My guess is, knowing Allen, he wasn’t playing with large sums of money,” Berman said, adding that the riskiest thing Tenenbaum did was jog with the flow of traffic instead of against it. Tenenbaum was health conscious. He ran three or four miles a day, ate lots of fruit and vegetables and shunned junk food. “I learned a neat trick from him,” Berman recalled. “The kids would go trick-or-treating at Halloween and come back with months of junk, three months of candy. “One day Brittany [Tenenbaum] gets in the carpool. I learned [from her] that he’d bought the candy from them for $10. I thought, ‘What a great idea.’ I’ve been doing it ever since.” Tenenbaum’s sister, Carol Tenenbaum, recalled that her brother drank wheat grass juice long before health food was popular. Baumrind, 48, described Tenenbaum as “a maven on nutrition” who noshed on cold, baked sweet potatoes on the golf course. Last Friday afternoon, Baumrind was one of the men helping ease the casket of his golfing buddy into the red earth. Debra Tenenbaum stopped the pallbearers to press a kiss on the simple wood box. Rabbi S. Robert Ichay of Or VeShalom told the mourners that it was his job to comfort the grieving. But, he said, his voice catching, he wished someone could comfort him. Despite the 99-degree temperature, so many mourners attended the funeral that the condolence book was filled up. Lines formed for people to toss a shovelful of dirt into the grave, a custom performed using the shovel’s back. Many of the same people returned Sunday for a memorial service and wept as daughters Brittany, 13, and Megan, 11, read Psalm 30 in Hebrew and English: “Though weeping endures for a night, joy comes in the morning.” His 3-year-old son, Scott, who used to scoot onto his father’s lap during services, did not attend. The speakers, including Tenenbaum’s siblings, father-in-law and synagogue friends, recalled a man devoted to his children and wife, a leader who built consensus, a friend who had the gift of listening without passing judgment. When speakers faltered, Debra Tenenbaum nodded at them reassuringly through tears. Her brother-in-law, Terry Tenenbaum, recounted a heart-rending moment at Shabbat dinner last week, just hours after the funeral. Sobbing and hugging her children, Debra Tenenbaum asked her brother-in-law to recite the blessing a father traditionally makes over his children. “That same faith that has sustained our people through millennia of tragedy and sorrow, that same faith is embedded rock-strong in Debra,” Terry Tenenbaum said. He paused and then added with conviction: “Yah ribon olam, ruler of the universe, God of Israel, bless the eternal and everlasting soul of my brother, Avraham Chaim ben Yeshiah haLevi. Zecher l’brachah — may his memory be a blessing.”