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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Rahm was the quiet underachiever whose turnaround came in the summer of 1977, after a near-death experience. An untreated cut to his finger led to a “bacterial infection that “invaded the bone” and spread “into his bloodstream and the rest of his body.”

“The extremely high fevers made Rahm suffer from hallucinations and episodes of babbling and angry outbursts. He would later tell me, ‘I woke up one night screaming at Mom, unloading on her about how she loved you more and about how she treated me as the second son.’”

Eventually, the doctors amputated the finger: “Rahm told me much later that ‘nearly dying was the single most important thing in my life.’ He said it changed him from a quiet, relaxed kid into a young man filled with the need to succeed and make something of himself.”

What to make of all this? Well, I have a hard time reconciling the young Rahm, who was taught to stand up for the weak, with Mayor Emanuel, who lobbies for tax breaks for the wealthy while closing mental health clinics that serve the poor.

Still, it’s a fun read. And, ultimately, it gave me a good idea of why the Emanuel brothers went so far. From the time they were born, they were pushed to go get what was theirs. They learned to view life as a struggle for survival in which the strong dominate the weak. So it’s best to be strong — if you’re lucky enough to have a choice.

Ben Joravsky has been writing about Chicago politics for over 30 years. A staff writer for the Reader newspaper, he’s written several books, including Hoop Dreams and The Greens. He’s also writes for The Third City, a daily humor blog that “rarely lies to the American people.”


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