How Three Jewish Boys From Wilmette Became the 'Brothers Emanuel'

Oldest Brother Offers a Manual to Being Emanuel

Brother Z: Zeke Emanuel is an oncologist, a bioethicist, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a former medical advisor in the Obama White House
Candace diCarlo
Brother Z: Zeke Emanuel is an oncologist, a bioethicist, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a former medical advisor in the Obama White House

By Ben Joravsky

Published April 15, 2013, issue of April 19, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 5)

One of Emanuel’s goals in writing the book — aside from capturing the family’s history — is to explain how three successful children emerged from one middle-class family, or at least middle-class compared to, say, the Pritzkers.

One thing’s for certain: Their religion had a little something to do with it. To the Emanuels, Judaism is not some abstract search for enlightenment or spirituality. It’s not even certain that they — or at least their parents — believe in God. To the brothers, Ezekiel writes, Judaism is not a “faith”; it’s a “practice” in which they’re “impelled to do mitzvoth” as their parents “demonstrated in their public and personal activism.”

Moreover, the brothers learned early on that the history of the Jews is one reminder after another that the world can be cruel and harsh and filled with evil anti-Semites who persecute you if only because they can. So you’d better come out fighting just to survive.

As such, they “understood the seriousness of history and the pride and joy represented by a Jewish state.” The military presence they saw on those summer trips to Israel “made a big impression on us.” They “were in awe of the soldiers. Whenever we were in a car and saw them hitchhiking we urged whoever was driving to offer them a ride and then seize the chance to examine their rifles and pepper them with questions.”

By Emanuel’s accounting, anti-Semitism was no abstraction. He asserts that, as young boys growing up on the north side of Chicago, he and his brothers learned to fight with their fists against the local riffraff — “hillbillies” from Appalachia — who called them “kikes” and “nigger lovers.” Apparently, anti-Semitism even existed in suburban Wilmette, where they moved in the 1960s. Rahm’s bar mitzvah was “the occasion for one of the more unsettling incidents of our time in Wilmette,” when “a young man opened the door and screamed some anti-Semitic curses at the crowd.”

Helping the brothers navigate their way were Benjamin and Marsha Emanuel. This is no “Mommy Dearest.” He spares us some of the messier details that might give his parents “about two hemorrhages apiece,” as Holden Caulfield once put it.


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!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • 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.