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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However, Benjamin does have a family reputation for being a tightwad. And Emanuel teases his father about his homeliness: “He looked like he ran into a brick wall nose first and had slightly buck teeth.”

Benjamin was born in Israel. Originally, his last name was Auerbach. But in 1933, Benjamin’s older brother, Emanuel, was shot in the leg by a stray bullet fired during a fight between police and protestors in Jerusalem. After he died, Ezekiel’s grandparents changed “the family name” to Emanuel “to honor their son.”

Benjamin went to medical school in Switzerland, came to America to find work and wound up living in Chicago and working as a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital. That’s where he met a young technician named Marsha Smulevitz, who was born and raised in Chicago. And, well, you can figure out the rest.

As for Marsha, she drove the boys hard. Having sacrificed her ambitions — she wanted her own career in politics — she stayed at home to raise the boys, pushing them to succeed. “As we grew older we became frustrated with our own failure to make her happy. Her disappointment, tearfully expressed, made us… feel both guilty and, since guilt works this way, angry about feeling guilty.”

All in all, they come across as loving, protective and nurturing parents. (Curiously, Emanuel makes no mention of Shoshana, his 39-year-old adoptive sister, who figures prominently in Bumiller’s article.)

If there’s a star to this story, it’s Marsha, who’s portrayed as a dedicated civil rights and anti-war activist. She preached tolerance to the boys, taught them to stand up to bullies on behalf of the weak and took them to marches and protests, even when they were very young. According to Emanuel, Marsha took her three sons — then 9, 7 and 5 — to the infamous 1966 open-housing march in Chicago where an angry mob hurled stones at Martin Luther King Jr.

Of the three, Ezekiel was the best student. Ariel was street-smart and quick with his fists, always pounding away at some kid, making one boy unfortunate enough to have crossed him “cry for mercy.”


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