Rahm and Ari Emanuel Beat Me Up

Do Childhood Bullies Make Powerful Adult Leaders?

Brothers: Rahm and his brother Ari Emanuel are both known for their belligerent personalities.
getty images
Brothers: Rahm and his brother Ari Emanuel are both known for their belligerent personalities.

By Alan Goldsher

Published November 03, 2012, issue of November 09, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Whenever the Brothers Emanuel went to town on me, there was always a pervasive sense of dread, the feeling that the violence was going to escalate, that their fists and feet were going to fly, that my bones would be snapped and my skin gashed, that I’d get smacked on my sore injection spot. As it so happened, Rahm and Ari never injured me too badly — it would’ve been pretty dumb for them to draw blood while their father was standing 20 yards away — but it was some scary shit that made my already lousy allergy shot afternoons even lousier.

Out of morbid curiosity, I followed my tormentors’ careers, and what careers they are: As an agent, Ari is the biggest of the big, and his steamroller attitude is common knowledge in the industry; few were surprised to learn he was the inspiration for the aggressive Ari Gold character of HBO’s“Entourage.” As for Rahm, in addition to his celebrated stint in Congress, he was a key figure in the Clinton and Obama White Houses before becoming mayor of Chicago in 2011. His aggressive approach was no secret, either. When he was a Democratic Party official, he famously mailed a dead fish to a pollster who angered him. In a 2006 CNN.com profile, Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole said of my old tormentor, “He’s dangerous, absolutely relentless when he’s got a political kill in sight.”

All of which got me to wondering if it’s common for a childhood tough guy to succeed as an adult. According to Robert Faris, a sociologist at the University of California Davis, if the circumstances are right, the answer is yes. “On average, the future for bullies is bleak,” Faris said. “They tend to come from homes that are problematic, and then end up having long-term problems. But there’s a caveat to that: another category of kids who are highly aggressive, kids who come from good homes, kids who are often quite popular. Those children are probably more skillful in the way that they use aggression. They often have high social skills, and do quite well in later life. There are probably a number of politicians and successful business leaders who fall into that category.”

For instance, Mitt Romney. As The Washington Post reported in May, back in 1965, the teenage Romney and his posse teased, then tackled, then abused a fellow student because they didn’t like his haircut. The Brothers Emanuel have little in common with Romney, other than the fact that they were childhood bullies and they stand near or at the top of their professions. Makes ya think, doesn’t it?

Me, I’m not surprised that Rahm and Ari ended up where they are. I was never privy to Dr. Benny’s parenting style, but I suspect he was the kind of father who wouldn’t tolerate anything but the best out of his children; plus, who was going to stand in their way? Not me, and probably not anybody else. I was frightened of the Emanuel boys back in the mid-1970s, and I suspect if I worked for or with either Rahm or Ari Emanuel, I’d be frightened of him today. For that matter, I was kind of relieved that neither responded to my several requests for comment on this story.

I actually did have one post-Wilmette encounter with Ari Emanuel. In 1999, I wanted to hire Larry David as a celebrity sports columnist for a web site I worked at. After some research, I discovered that Ari was his manager, so I reached out to my former antagonist. At that point, in ’99, a schnook like me could get him on the phone without any problem. After I made my pitch, I told him: “You know what, Ari? You and me, we have a history. Your dad was my pediatrician. And sometimes when I came to your house to get my allergy shots, you and your brother beat me up.”

There was a second or three of charged silence, then he said, “That must’ve sucked for you,” and hung up. And he never called me back about Larry David.

Alan Goldsher is the author of “Paul Is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion” (Gallery Books, 2010). He’s the host of “Book It,” the first interactive talk show about writing, reading and publishing. He blogs at www.AlanGoldsher.com.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.