Chronicling the (Rahm) Emanuel brothers


by Fran Kritz

Ezekiel Emanuel, 56, older brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm and Hollywood agent, Ari, has just written a book about the three superstar siblings, Brothers Emanuel: A Memoir of an American Family. Zeke, as he’s known, charted a more cerebral path — following in the footsteps of the family patriarch, Benjamin, to become a physician. Dr. Emanuel, an architect of the Affordable Care Act, is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

WJW spoke to Dr. Emanuel about the upbringing that raised three successful and distinctive sons.


WJW: What prompted you to write a book about the three Emanuel brothers?

Emanuel: Well, I’ve been jotting down stories to tell my kids to pass on the family history and then the opportunity to put them into book form came along because people are interested in the story. I kept being asked: “What did your mom put in the cereal? How come all three brothers are successful, and in all different ways?” So we decided that it probably was about time that someone sat down and actually pulled the story together and tried to make sense of it.

WJW: How did you draw the writer’s straw?

Emanuel: We like to say I’m the more academic brother. I’ve written three previous books. I’ve edited six other books, so I have some experience in putting pen to paper than my brothers. They have other strong suits.

WJW: What have you carried over in your parenting of your daughters that you learned from your parents?

Emanuel: I think that there are two very important things that my parents did. The first is that my mom, especially, has this commitment to social justice, a commitment to making sure that people not as well off as we were also had opportunities and the chance to improve their lives. She did this in a whole host of ways — taking us out to demonstrations — civil rights, anti-war. She was very instrumental, for example, in pushing our housekeeper to go and get her LPN degree — to get a much better job than being a housekeeper and to get a job that had benefits. And I think because of that all three brothers in our own ways have been committed to making the country and the world a better place.

I’d say the second factor in making us who we have become was the enormous amount of affection and, importantly, physical affection that we got growing up. In family discussions on political issues or family discussions about family matters, our viewpoint was recognized and we were included. We really did have this philosophy in the family that it didn’t matter who you were — if you made a good point, you made a good point, and we didn’t ignore a good point just because it came out of the 5-year-old. That was important.

And, my father was a very early believer in parental affection, and he would kiss us. He would roughhouse with us. In those days, that was pretty unusual. And, I think because of that we are physically very close. We’re constantly touching each other. Both of those things are certainly things I’ve carried on with my children.

And I would say a third and also very important thing is that my parents always encouraged and fostered the sense that we didn’t have to be followers of whatever the trend was. We didn’t have to fit in. Being slightly unusual, being slightly out of step was perfectly fine. We were educated to be very comfortable in our skin. That happened in big and small ways. One of the big ways is, as kids, we didn’t go to camp like everyone else. We went to Israel when none of our peers were traveling overseas with their parents, and so we had to feel comfortable about the fact that we were not doing the same things as our friends.

I certainly have passed that on to my daughters. Clothes are not their preoccupation. They are very comfortable being slightly out of step with the latest trends as long as that being out of step is the right thing to do.

WJW: How similar is the observance of Judaism in your own household with that of your parents?

Emanuel: I would say that my household was much, much more religious than the one I grew up in. While we very much identified as Jews and we spent a lot of time in Israel, my parents were not particularly religious. My kids participated in synagogue and are incredibly knowledgeable and so I think that I’ve taken faith to another extreme.

WJW: I read a story that you were speaking on the phone with your daughter who was in New York and you were in Washington, and you two were disappointed you couldn’t have dinner together. So, you hopped on a plane and met her for dinner.

Emanuel: That is absolutely true. I have a special ring on my phone for my three daughters so that if they call, I don’t care what the meeting is, I take the call. I want to know if it’s an emergency or they just want to talk. They know that whatever the hour is, they will call.

I had one who was stranded in India. Her flight was canceled.  There was no flight for five days, 3 o’clock in the morning she calls me and says dad, can you help sort this out? Of course, the answer is of course, and I think the consequence of being raised like that is I talk to my brothers, I don’t know, four or five times a week. I didn’t know how unusual that was until I was on the phone with one of my brothers and said “speak to you in a few days.” And someone overhearing that conversation was so surprised that I’d be saying that to my brother. I said yes, we talk all the time and I didn’t realize that most people don’t do that with their siblings.

I don’t know how I would live without talking to them, checking in with them, getting advice from them.

I’m a very independent guy.  Each one of my brothers is incredibly independent, sometimes drives everyone nuts how independent we are, and yet I know that without their love and support at various times in my life, it would be a much, much different, harder life.

What’s crazy about them is that things could be going normally but suddenly you need their support and they’re there for you instantaneously, so when I went through my divorce, Rahm called me every day for three weeks, every single day, and all he would say is how are you doing?   Anything I can do?

He reads an article…he calls me.  He wants to know how the girls are doing. I ran with his son in the New York City half marathon.  It’s just part of being the family.


3/13/2013 10:32:00 AM

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