By Ellin Bessner
Sam Tenenbaum’s grandfather Serge survived the Nazi occupation of France and escaped to New York in 1944, But some of his relatives weren’t so lucky.
Now, the 22-year-old business student wants to make sure those Holocaust survivors who are living in poverty are cared for with dignity in the last years of their lives.
Tenenbaum is getting ready to run in the New York City Marathon in honour of survivors who live in poverty. He and two friends, Brandon Rudie and Cooper Weiss, have been training on their own to complete the 42.195 km race through five boroughs.
As an amateur runner—this is Tenenbaum’s first time entering a marathon—he knew he wouldn’t qualify to run strictly on his time trial.
Instead, he researched other ways to enter, and discovered he could be accepted if he ran as part of Team Blue Card, which has been raising funds this way for decades to help Holocaust survivors in the U.S.
“I’ve always just thought that this is very important and it should be remembered,” said Tenenbaum in an interview from his home in Westmount. “It should be all of our duty to take care of the Holocaust survivors and their families who are still living.”
Family escaped France
Sam’s paternal grandfather Serge Tenenbaum was born in Warsaw in 1920. The family moved to Paris, France where great-grandfather Leon Tenenbaum established a furniture business. Three days before the Germans occupied Paris, in 1940, the family fled. They spent two more years hiding in the Vichy zone of France, before escaping by boat from Portugal to New York in 1944.
The family came to Canada and founded the well-known Elte furniture design store in Toronto.
While Sam never met his paternal grandfather Serge, who died in 1970, the student has always been aware of the Holocaust. Speakers visited his high school, Lower Canada College, and he’s toured the Montreal Holocaust Centre and Yad Vashem museum in Israel.
But just this past week, Tenenbaum was shocked by a fellow student in his Holocaust literature class, who thought no survivors remain alive.
“So it just shows how uneducated [people are] and how people don’t really know what’s happening and especially the fact that there are these survivors who can’t even afford basic needs, like shelter and food and clothing.”
Lost weight while training
While he initially entered the New York City Marathon two years ago, as a way to challenge himself athletically, the race was cancelled last year.
When he learned the 2021 edition would go ahead, Tenenbaum amped up his training routine. He’s been putting in five or six long runs per week, whether it is up and down the hills of Westmount, or in Verdun, or even on Mount Royal.
His regimen has helped him drop some weight. And he’s eating better, too.
And how do his parents feel about his new-found passion?
“My mom is a bit nervous. She doesn’t like that I come home aching in pain and always complaining about certain injuries,” he admitted. “But my dad’s very happy, and I think they’re both very proud that I’m running for this cause.”
Tenenbaum hopes to complete Sunday’s marathon in under five hours. More importantly, he hopes to raise $3,400 for Blue Card.
For more on Tenenbaum’s marathon fundraiser and information on how to contribute click here.