David Emanuel: a fighter to the end

February 24, 2022 by J-Wire
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Well-loved David Emanuel was capped nine times as a Wallaby representing Australia in Rugby Union. On Monday, he passed away in Sydney at the age of 87 after a nine-month-long battle with cancer.

David Emanuel

The Classic Wallabies website describe him as “David Emanuel was an extremely tough, hard-working lock/back-row forward who was the Wallabies’ premier middle rower in the mid-to-late 1950s. Emanuel was an exceptional lineout jumper, had an excellent scrummaging technique and proved more than proficient in the tight”.

His daughters Lisa Filler and Fiona Weiss wrote this eulogy delivered yesterday by Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins.

“David Maurice Emanuel was born in the family home in Portland Street, Dover Heights on 23 June 1934, son of Bella and Cedric Emanuel and brother to Janese Owen. He was a fifth-generation Australian and very proud of that heritage. Bella made a beautiful home for Cedric and her children; David was an ideal son, and Bella was his biggest fan, keeping a scrapbook of all his events and attending any event in which he competed.  Cedric was a larrikin, a free-lance commercial artist whose work is well known, who had a strong influence on David’s sporting career. Cedric was an archetypical Aussie bloke, and the apple did not fall far from the tree. The family of four was very close.

With the outbreak of war, Cedric was deployed in the air force in Papua New Guinea, and both David and Janese were sent to boarding school in the country. David went to Trinity Grammar in Bowral for primary school where he spent much of his time concentrating on sport. He came back to Sydney where he attended high school at Sydney Grammar, playing rugby and making lifelong mates.

David had a very colourful sporting life. He was a proud member of the Bondi Surf Club as a lifesaver while at the same time training and boxing with his father by his side. He was a very good swimmer and Sydney Grammar gave him the opportunity to show that skill.  Then came Rugby Union which became a major part of his life. He started his rugby career at Easts Rugby Club where he played as a second-rower because he was strong and over six feet tall. From Easts, he had the opportunity to play for the New South Wales rugby team, and then the highlight was being selected to play for the Wallabies, which provided him with the opportunity to go on tours to New Zealand in 1955 and then travelling by ship and being away for 7 months on a tour to the British Isles in 1957. He loved those times and notwithstanding that he would constantly say “What goes on tour stays on tour” every now and then he would convey a very colourful story of the antics that took place.  Once he retired from rugby he began to coach at Easts and help set up Easts’ junior team “the Wallaroos”. He was largely a modest man who never spoke much about his sporting achievements of which there were many.

David was asked to coach the Maccabi Rugby Club when it was established and, till this day, the boys in those teams have kept in contact as they held David in a very special place in their hearts. He was a father figure for many of the young men and women who he knew.

Wallaby David Emanuel

David started his business career helping his father sell his artwork before moving on to work with his uncle Stanley, the husband of Bella’s sister Etty.  As they had no children, David was like a son to them and helped look after Etty in her old age after Stanley’s death.  After working in their jewellery business,  he ventured out on his own into clothing manufacturing and eventually a homewares business. Being a well-known sportsman, many doors opened for him. With his strong work ethic, he was always up for a challenge and bounced back very capably when things didn’t go to plan.  He spent many years travelling to Hong Kong and Taiwan on business and his associates from those times still regularly keep in touch. David was a principled person whose word was his deed. He was so loyal to his staff of many decades, treating them so much like his family, that even after he retired they would come to his house for bar-b-ques.  He treated each and all with respect.

David was also a real do-er, an action-oriented person, someone who always jumped in headfirst. He proposed to his wife Ileana after knowing her for only six weeks. The two were on a blind date together – she with his best friend, he with another girl, but it was the two of them who were attracted to each other. When they got engaged, Ileana’s Austrian parents invited David’s Aussie parents over for a first meeting, an amusing but warm encounter between proper Viennese and dinky-di Aussie – yet the two families formed a close and loving bond.

David and Ileana married at The Great Synagogue on the 17th of December in 1959.  Together they established a very warm and welcoming home in Blaxland Road which became a hub for many enjoyable occasions with family and friends. David and Illy were a good, supportive couple who together created and nurtured an exemplary cohesive family.  The love, care and devotion that David extended to his parents Bella and Cedric, his in-laws Gerda and Carol, his Aunty Etty and other family members was stellar.

He and Illy adored their two daughters,  Lisa and Fiona. Their parents provided them a beautiful, loving home that was the central place for all their friends.  David and Illy’s home was the one that their friends enjoyed being at, all feeling nurtured and looked after in their company – many felt they were second parents for them.  Even though his girls were not sporty like he and his father were, David was glad to have daughters who could be their own women and not have to live up to the Emanuel name and family sporting tradition.

David was thrilled when the girls married Phil and Rob, who ending up bringing the sporting tradition into the next generation; he was later over the moon to welcome eight grandchildren (four boys and four girls) into a growing family. Rachel, Benjamin, Annabel, Steven, Simon, Melanie, Mark and Camilla all brought joy and happiness to his life and they spent countless hours with him. He thrived on the numerous overseas trips taken with them – the thirteen would head off on the minibus together to the airport for a David Emanuel mini-tour of locales around the world. David was a permanent fixture on the sideline at the girls’ netball games and the boys’ soccer games, usually shadowed by his beloved sheep dog, Charlotte.

Playing with Easts

Following in the tradition established by Gerda, every Monday the family had dinner at the family home with David perched at the head of the table watching the mayhem and loving every minute of the time he spent with the whole family. And they also kept Bella’s tradition of being together every Shabbat as well.  More recently he loved being a great grandfather to four precious little girls – Emme, Matilda, Lilah and Phoebe. He welcomed Brett and Dani as partners of his grandchildren and loved attending their weddings and equally was looking forward to the upcoming wedding of Annabel to David Galombik in a few weeks’ time.

David also had a very special relationship with Ileana’s family in the United States and, even after losing Ileana in 2004, he remained close to her brother George, George’s daughter Melanie and Gerda’s sister Lana, her son Jeff and his children Marc & Alain as well as Jodi and her daughters Alex and Illy. He would visit them frequently attending weddings and other special occasions including Lana’s 100th birthday, where the whole family was together for the last time.

David and Ileana had a very close-knit circle of friends who, even after Illy’s passing, have always been there to support David and were all there for him until the very end. In his retired days, he took up bridge where his good name and charm endeared him to a whole new group of people.

David’s life turned upside down when he was diagnosed with a tumour in May last year and this resulted in him having major life-changing surgery. Unfortunately, the disease came back very quickly and nothing further could be done for him, but he got on with life and fought bravely until the very end.  Always strong and independent, he never wanted to be a burden to others; rather he always wanted to be of support for them. He spent the last weeks of his life living with Lisa and Phil, where he was comfortable and enjoyed the company of all the friends and family who visited him.  On Monday, he passed away, with his loving daughters Lisa and Fiona by his side.

David will be remembered fondly by his school friends who he still met for lunch, rugby teammates at reunions and surf club pals when walking and swimming at Bondi Beach.

David was a generous man who often quietly helped those in need without any hesitation or recognition. He gave his time to volunteer driving for the Burger Centre and supported many charities.

He is the last male Emanuel on the family tree, a very fitting person to end a line of big brave men. As expressed in the Psalm, David was a man of high values – principled, thoughtful, considerate, kind, down to earth and level-headed – a man of pure heart.  An incredibly family-oriented person, David will leave a gaping hole in the hearts of his family and his many good friends. This gentle giant, this true Aussie mensch, will be sorely missed by one and all. May his memory be a blessing.”

In an address delivered on behalf of his eight grandchildren, they said: “The last few months of Dave’s life was not easy, but no matter how sick he was, there wasn’t a moment where he wouldn’t try to make everything okay and pretend he was perfectly fine just to save our worry. Just last week at dinner he insisted on washing the dishes after dinner, one arm and all. To us, he will always be that big friendly giant of a man both in stature and as a human. The guy who would play dentist when we were young by pulling out our teeth when we least expect it with his ginormous bare heads.”

His son-in-law former Hakoah president Phil Filler told J-Wire: “He never gave up and he never complained. He was a fighter to the end.”

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