• Home
  • Parashah
  • Ask the Rabbi
  • Festivals
  • Freemasonry
  • Articles
  • About
  • Books
  • Media

    Eulogy for Syd Einfeld

    Address delivered by Rabbi Raymond Apple at the funeral of Sydney David Einfeld AO, at the Great Synagogue, Sydney, on 19 June, 1995.

    sydney einfeldFrom the moment the news spread that Syd Einfeld had died, people have spoken in superlatives about him. He was a big man, a great man, and people’s instinctive assessment of him is in words like “a prince”, “a giant’, “a legend”, “larger than life”.

    There is a debate in Jewish commentary about the Biblical personage, Noah. The Bible says Noah was righteous in his generation. “In his generation”… Is this a praise of Noah, for if he was great in his wicked generation, how much greater would he have been in a righteous age? Or was it was only in a wicked generation that he shone, and had he lived at a better time, he would have been a mediocrity?

    This is the Jewish way of Judging a leader. Is he only great in the light of his age, or would he be great in any age and wherever he lived? That is the question we might ask about Syd Einfeld, and the answer is loud and clear: Syd was great by any standards.

    There is another question one asks about leadership. Do you become a leader because of personal charisma, or because you are a thinker and see the needs of society? There are leaders of both types. Syd was both at once: a personality and at the same time a man of thinking.

    Shakespeare says, “One man in his time plays many parts”. That too was Syd, but he played them all together. In particular he bestrode two worlds – political and national leadership, and national and international Jewish leadership; he worked at both together and both seemed to be simultaneous priorities.

    But in all his roles and responsibilities, he was a chazan’s son, the son of a cantor. Three weeks before Syd was born, his parents arrived in Sydney where his father was to be cantor of the Great Synagogue, moving congregations by the heart, soul and spirit of his chanting.

    Like a chazan, Syd was driven by dreams and visions. He responded to the human condition with emotional feeling and passion. In his own way he was a shaliach tzibbur, the spokesman of the people, using his voice to articulate their concerns and anxieties.

    The story of his life covers so many colourful and crucial decades that the obituaries have been able to focus only on better-known episodes and eras. There really needs to be a biography to record it all. It would be an important part of Australian and Jewish history writing.

    For Syd’s career moved through various business and professional undertakings into massive and historic contributions to history. Always interested in politics, he joined the Labor Party early on, especially because he wanted to work to ensure that the least protected members of society would have a fair go.

    The media remarked the other day that though he worked hard and energetically for the party it was many years before he entered parliamentary life. What they perhaps fail to realise is that in the meantime, whilst politics remained a major agenda item, Syd was desperately busy trying to help Jews who were suffering under the Nazi regime and then, after the Holocaust, saving the lives and restoring the spirits of the survivors who deserved a fresh start in a tolerant land.

    A recent historian of Australian Jewry asked Syd to read her manuscript before it was published. She knew Syd had lived through and moulded every page of the last sixty-odd years of that story.

    Time after time, week after week, Syd went to Canberra to see government officials and cabinet ministers to arouse Australia to the opportunity this nation had to give the world a lead in humanitarianism. It was often far from easy, but countless people know how much they owe to Syd for getting them permits, providing accommodation, material assistance, English lessons, and showing sheer humanity.

    Syd has a wonderful, devoted family. They comprise far more than his wife, children, grandchildren and the extended Einfelds. Unbelievable numbers of Jewish families think of Syd as their brother, their father-figure, their friend, their champion, their mainstay, their prince.

    Not only did he meet almost every plane, ship and train. He repeatedly travelled overseas to help homeless people find a way to come to Australia. He needed only to visit a Polish concentration camp to know that his work could never let up. And it was not only the Jewish community who sent him on missions overseas; the Australian government knew it could have unqualified confidence in Syd.

    To tell the story of his Jewish community work one would have to say that many times he held the presidency of Australian Jewry, joining a select band of other great men in reconstructing, restructuring, rebuilding, almost reinventing the Jewish community of this country.

    So often he was the catalyst for change within the community, the lodestar of leadership in times of crisis, the negotiator who created or revamped fundraising agencies, the humanitarian who built up the welfare organisations, the diplomat who got governments and international authorities on side to bring refugees here and integrate them into the community. I don’t think any of the countless people Syd helped ever disappointed him or let Australia down.

    At the same time his political and public career was building up. He had led the Labor Party in Bondi at a time of turbulent change. He had become known to and respected by Australians at large for his outstanding efforts in social and migrant welfare work for the wider community. This helped him become a member of federal parliament and he soon made his mark on the national scene.

    He lost his federal seat in a swing against Labor but before long was in State parliament. Almost immediately he became deputy leader of the Opposition and a creative thinker as a shadow minister.

    Then, in the Wran government, he was appointed to cabinet and a new era opened up.

    Syd was no youngster by this stage, but with youthful energy and undaunted spirit he carved a niche in national history as the architect of consumerism in Australia. So much of his work in this area has had a trail-blazing effect that he may truly be said to have changed the face of Australian society.

    The “Reader’s Digest” used to carry regular stories entitled “My Most Unforgettable Character”. In so many ways, ordinary Australians of all types and backgrounds think of Syd in those terms. And countless numbers cherish unforgettable memories of him – especially as the man who was not too big or too busy to help when they were in a spot, to advise when they felt alone, or to take up the cudgels when their case was falling on deaf ears.

    He could be immensely gentle. He could be immensely blunt. He could be immensely passionate. He could – quite deliberately – get so worked up on the floor of the parliament that both sides thought he was going to have a heart attack. Whatever of his many roles he was seen in, he was never invisible, inaudible, unfair, irresponsible or selfish.

    When he retired he was called “The most popular man in New South Wales”. That is how he remained with his radio programmes that informed, warned and helped so many and upheld their interests. For this was a man who could stride through the corridors of power, do battle with the highest in the land, exercise leadership on the grand scale, and at the same time be a man of the people, a mensch.

    Syd was a great Australian, a great Jew. The two worlds in which he lived were one. He was not a Jew by mere accident of birth, nor did he pay perfunctory lip service to his Jewishness. He was an Australian public figure who was at all times an active, believing, practising Jew, and he earned respect for Jews by his respect for Judaism.

    He had the talent to have become a rich man, but he jeopardised his chances of great affluence, as did the Einfelds generally, by unselfish work for the community.

    He was fortunate in his family, in his wonderful wife and friend Billie, his children Marcus and Robyn, Albert and Ruth Halm who were like children, and all his grandchildren. They knew he was driven by a force, a passion, that would not be denied. It is significant that a leading highway in the eastern suburbs is called Syd Einfeld Drive, for that is the right name for the dynamo that was the centre of his family, that is what he was, that is what he had – the Syd Einfeld-drive.

    He was Sydney David Einfeld. His parents named him after the city where they had come to live. Syd spanned the life of Sydney for almost all of this century, and was one of its most colourful, charismatic, creative citizens. His city, his state, his nation, had unbounded pride in him.

    He was not only Sydney, but also David – a latter-day king of the Jews, a magen david, a David who protected his people and did battle for them.

    His father Marcus’s Hebrew name was Mordechai. Let the words the Bible uses about the original Mordechai be a fitting conclusion to this tribute to one of his descendants:

    “He was great among the Jews and esteemed by the multitude of his brethren; he sought the good of his people, and sought peace for all their descendants.”

    Simcha David ben HeChaver Mordechai, lech beshalom. May God comfort your dear ones. May your memory be a blessing. Amen.

    Comments are closed.