Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Einfeld, Sydney David (Syd) (1909–1995)

by Rodney Smith

This article was published online in 2019

Sydney David Einfeld (1909–1995), Jewish community leader and politician, was born on 17 June 1909 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, fifth of seven children of Austrian-born parents Marcus Einfeld, chazan (synagogue cantor), and his wife Deborah, née Gabel. Marcus had left Borough New Synagogue, London, to become chazan at the Great Synagogue in Sydney, arriving less than a month before Sydney’s birth. Sydney was named after the family’s new city. The Einfelds were generous towards community members and encouraged their children to have sympathy for the oppressed and to be active in pursuing social justice. Sydney attended Bourke Street Public, Paddington Public, and Fort Street Boys’ High schools; at Fort Street he was a member of the first XV rugby team. After qualifying for matriculation he began work in sales. In 1930 he moved to Brisbane, where he met Sydney-born Sadie Rosabel (Billie) Appleboom, a saleswoman. Returning to Sydney, they married on 2 June 1934 at the Great Synagogue, and he became manager of a merchandise company. Throughout their married life the couple would often work together in community organisations.

Einfeld was a founder member and leader of several Jewish community groups, beginning with the Sydney Young Men’s Hebrew Association in 1929. In 1945 he became a foundation member of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies. Two years later he was appointed chairman of the board’s migrant reception committee. He often met refugees as they disembarked and helped them settle. In 1952 he became president of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society (AJWS) in Sydney; he would oversee its services for the next twenty-seven years. From 1947 to 1957 he was also an adjudicator for the City of Sydney Eisteddfod.

From the late 1940s, Einfeld’s work developed a national and international focus. He repeatedly visited Canberra to lobby the Federal government on issues affecting Jewish refugees, such as liberalising immigration policy, and strongly supported Zionism. In 1952 he commenced the first of four terms as president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. He attended the 1954 meeting of the international Claims Conference to press for reparations to Holocaust survivors in Australia, and made regular international trips to organise Jewish migration to Australia. By the 1960s his reputation for leadership led to his appointment to a number of national and worldwide organisations, including the Australian Council for International Development and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies. He received the Maurice Ashkanasy award for Australian Jew of the Year in 1969.

Einfield also entered parliamentary politics in the 1960s. He had joined the Australian Labor Party in 1938, but had restricted his involvement to local branch and electorate activity; in 1943 he had been campaign director for Jessie Street. In 1961 he won the Federal seat of Phillip but lost it at the following election. Although disillusioned by his experience in the House of Representatives, in November 1965 he stood successfully for Bondi (Waverley from 1971) at a by-election for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly caused by Abe Landa’s resignation.

When Pat Hills was promoted to the Opposition leadership in July 1968, Einfeld moved into the vacant deputy leadership position. He was an effective critic of the government and one of Labor’s best campaigners at the 1971 State election. Nonetheless, Hills and Einfeld lacked the youthful image that Labor now desired in its leaders and they were narrowly defeated for the leadership positions by Neville Wran and Jack Ferguson in 1973.

After Labor’s 1976 election victory, Einfeld became New South Wales’s second minister for consumer affairs, and also held the cooperative societies portfolio. Having had the shadow responsibility for consumer affairs, as minister he embarked on an enthusiastic program of reform. Against opposition from industry groups, he amended the Prices Regulation Act 1948 to increase the government’s power over the price of essentials such as bread and petrol. Amendments to the Consumer Protection Act 1969, between 1977 and 1981, introduced measures such as expiry dates on perishable goods. The Contracts Review Act 1980 gave courts wider powers to deal with unjust consumer contracts. He oversaw the expansion of the consumer affairs ministry into a fully fledged department, initiated Prices Commission inquiries into a range of industries, introduced a Rental Bond Board to give tenants greater protection, and increased the profile of the existing Consumer Claims Tribunal. This activity made him the most recognised minister in the government after the premier, being dubbed ‘the housewives’ friend’ (Shanahan 2006, 239).

Following the 1978 election, housing was added to Einfeld’s ministerial responsibilities, creating a workload which finally forced him to resign the presidency of the AJWS in 1979. In 1980 he lost the housing and cooperative societies portfolios but retained consumer affairs until his retirement in 1981. Appointed AO in 1982, he also received the Queen’s silver jubilee medal in 1977. He remained active in public affairs throughout the 1980s, including as a commentator on consumer affairs on radio station 2GB, as deputy chairman of the Advertising Standards Council, as chairman of the National Prices Network, and as director of the Australian Caption Centre. He also sat on the boards of Air New South Wales and Mirvac Funds Ltd.

An accomplished debater in his youth, Einfeld made an impression as an erudite and often impassioned political orator. His warmth, genuine concern for people, and dedication to practical action were more important, however, in securing the high standing he achieved within parliament and among the public. The Federal government’s Syd Einfeld Active Consumer award and the Jewish National Fund’s Sydney D. Einfeld memorial award were established in recognition of his work, and a B’nai B’rith unit named after him. Shortly after Einfeld’s retirement, Rabbi Raymond Apple stated that the Sydney Jewish community owed ‘more to him than it does to any other man’ (Andgel 1988, 208). He died on 16 June 1995 at Woollahra, Sydney, and, following a funeral at the Great Synagogue, was buried in the Jewish cemetery, Rookwood. His wife and their son and daughter survived him. Marcus, his son, was a Federal court judge and human rights commissioner. Syd Einfeld Drive at Bondi Junction, and the Syd and Billie Einfeld Forest in Israel, commemorate him.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Andgel, Anne. Fifty Years of Caring: The History of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society 1936–1986. Sydney: The Australian Jewish Welfare Society and The Australian Jewish Historical Society, 1988
  • Brasch, R. Australian Jews of Today and the Part They Have Played. Stanmore, NSW: Cassell Australia, 1977
  • Freudenberg, Graham. Cause for Power: The Official History of the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Labor Party. Leichhardt, NSW: Pluto Press, 1991
  • Rutland, Suzanne D. ‘The Hon. Sydney David Einfeld, AO: Builder of Australian Jewry.’ Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal 11, no. 2 (July 1991): 312–30
  • Rutland, Suzanne D. The Jews in Australia. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2005
  • Shanahan, Dennis. ‘An Assessment from the Outside.’ In The Wran Era, edited by Troy Bramston, 235–42. Leichhardt, NSW: The Federation Press, 2006

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Citation details

Rodney Smith, 'Einfeld, Sydney David (Syd) (1909–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/einfeld-sydney-david-syd-23419/text32504, published online 2019, accessed online 22 October 2019.

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