Year after year, as Alan Edelstein passed a Torah in the lobby of Newton’s Temple Emanuel, he wondered who had read from the scrolls decades earlier, when the Torah was still in the Czechoslovakian town of Dvur Kralove at the outset of World War II.
“Walking by it, I felt something was missing, not fulfilling the Torah’s place in our community,” he told the Globe in 2009.
Taking it upon himself to address those unanswered questions, Mr. Edelstein tracked down the names of more than 120 Jews who were living in Dvur Kralove as the war began. Most of them were killed by the Nazis at concentration camps, including children such as 4-year-old Dorotea Fuchsova, 6-year-old Gita Breuerova, and 7-year-old Peter Fuchs.
With his wife, Sybil, Mr. Edelstein funded a Wall of Remembrance at Temple Emanuel that lists all those names. “The Torah represents people, and without people the Torah is not meaningful,” he told the Globe not long before the wall was unveiled nine years ago. “Those are the people who used the Torah, and it’s bringing them back to their love.
Mr. Edelstein, who founded the Boston accounting firm Edelstein & Co., was 92 when he died May 11. He had lived for many years in the Waban village of Newton and his health had been declining.
“His life was defined by family, hard work, giving back to the community, and the importance of service,” said his son Dr. David R. Edelstein of Manhattan, N.Y. “He was grounded by his humble beginnings.”
In a eulogy at his father’s funeral service last month, he recalled that Mr. Edelstein “would say that he grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.”
Mr. Edelstein was a child when the Great Depression began, and always carried with him the memory of when, at age 7, he was entrusted to bring to the bank the day’s receipts from his family’s deli. “He came home beaming that he had accomplished this adult task to find his father distressed since it was the first day that banks were closed during the Great Depression — the money was lost,” David said in his eulogy.
For his father, he added, that “rite of passage to responsibility was bittersweet.”
It also helped inform the sense of responsibility that would define Mr. Edelstein’s approach to life later on. A business administration major as an undergraduate, and then a law school graduate as well, “he was torn between practicing the law and accounting, and decided that his tax law background would make him a better accountant — and the rest is history,” his son said.
Edelstein & Co., the firm Mr. Edelstein founded 50 years ago, is still operating today. David said that to honor the company’s golden anniversary, his father reminded everyone of his four guiding principles: “there is no substitute for hard work; attention to detail; always have a higher standard of ethics than is required; and teamwork.”
Mr. Edelstein would turn down business or send away clients who wouldn’t “adhere to those principles,” his son said. “He had a very strong sense of fairness, respect for rules, a very strong moral fabric, and he was not afraid to speak his mind.”
The older of two brothers, Alan Martin Edelstein was born in Boston and grew up in New Haven, Conn. His parents, Barney Edelstein and the former Goldie Lobel, ran a deli, and money was never plentiful, particularly during the Depression.
“He would always tell me they had nothing,” David said, yet Mr. Edelstein wanted to make more of his life. “He had five close friends as a youth. All five grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. All five went to college.”
By then, Mr. Edelstein had already begun to prove his mettle. He was 13 when his parents went to visit the World’s Fair in New York City in 1939, leaving young Alan in charge of the deli. “No one who knew Alan would not doubt that he could take care of the business,” his son said.
After graduating from high school, Mr. Edelstein joined the Navy during World War II, even though he was deaf in one ear. “He worked to overcome that disability and never let it holdhim back,” his son said.
Mr. Edelstein then used the GI Bill and worked three jobs to pay for his education at Boston University, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree. He also graduated from the Boston University School of Law before going on to also become a certified public accountant.
“He passed the bar exam before finishing law school,” his son said, “and he passed the CPA exam on the first try.”
In 1950, the year after he graduated from law school, Mr. Edelstein married Sybil Abrams, who had studied education and social work in Rhode Island. Mr. Edelstein would take a bus or hitchhike to visit her.
Mr. Edelstein remained involved with BU over the years, working as an adjunct professor of accounting, along with serving as a leader of the alumni association and the Hillel Foundation. A distinguished service award recipient, he also was a leader of the Boston University School of Medicine’s Board of Visitors and, with his wife, Sybil, founded the medical school’s parents committee.
At Temple Emanuel in Newton, Mr. Edelstein was a past president, and he also served as a leader with the New England region United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
“His leadership style was to lead from the front,” his son said.
Mr. Edelstein served in so many leadership roles that “my memory was of him always being on the phone listening to people at night and giving advice, but not in an abstract way,” his son said.
A service has been held for Mr. Edelstein, who in addition to his wife, Sybil, and son, David, leaves his daughter, Dr. Marcia Edelstein Herrmann of Newton; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Mr. Edelstein had a brush with death 42 years ago, when he suffered a heart attack.
In the decades since then, “he understood this was borrowed time and he didn’t waste it,” his son said. “In the last year, he would tell more and more stories, even though he led his life as an inspiration.”
As a boy growing up in a family of limited means in New Haven, Mr. Edelstein was at times beaten up “by children of other faiths, and he really worked to overcome fear and controversy with other groups his whole life,” his son said.
“He did not take education seriously enough as a child,” David added, “and he worked hard to overcome that, and instilled in his children and grandchildren the importance of education and hard work.”Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.