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.
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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.


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