Memoir explores diverse successes of ‘Brothers Emanuel’: Zeke, Rahm and Ari

‘Brothers Emanuel’ by Ezekiel J. Emanuel

By Burton Boxerman, Special to the Jewish Light

One would be hard pressed to find a more accomplished trio of brothers in America today than the Emanuel brothers.  Ezekiel “Zeke” the oldest, is a cancer doctor, a medical ethicist, and vice provost and professor at the University of Pennsylvania.  The middle brother, Rahm, probably the best known, is the mayor of Chicago, after having served as White House Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama. The youngest sibling, Ari, who has struggled his entire life with dyslexia, is a highly successful Hollywood talent agent. He is the real-life model for the character of Ari Gould on “Entourage,” the popular erstwhile HBO television series.  

For years, people have asked Zeke, the most outspoken of the three siblings, the same questions: “What did your mom put in the cereal?  How could a family of such modest means produce three such high-achieving kids?”  In his recently published book, “Brothers Emanuel: A Memoir of an American Family,” (Random House, $27.00, 274 pages), Ezekiel Emanuel has attempted to answer these questions.

He attributes the brothers’ tenacity to their parents, Ben and Marsha Emanuel.  His Israeli born father, a pediatrician, interrupted his medical studies in France to participate in the Israeli War for independence in 1948, acting as an amateur secret agent who later joined the Israeli artillery in the Suez Canal fight against the Egyptians.  After that war, Ben finished his medical studies in Switzerland before coming to the United States for his residency at Chicago’s Mount Sinai Hospital.  He opened a private practice on the city ‘s south side where he served his mostly immigrant patients not only with his medical skills but also by his ability to speak four languages.  

Their mother, Marsha, is the daughter of a Chicago trade union organizer; she has always been active in the civil-rights movement.  During the 1960s, she was a staunch left-wing activist, where, along with her sons, she joined picket lines for desegregation and encouraged her boys to participate in other causes for social justice.  Zeke still remembers accompanying his mother in a 1966 march attended by Martin Luther King.  “My mother has always wanted to make the world a better place,” maintains Ezekial.”  He also remembers the results of their participation—blatant anti-Semitism and racial slurs.

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Zeke candidly admits that there is no secret to the Emanuel siblings’ success.  “Our parents always placed an emphasis on school, hard work, and ambition.  Even though our family was never materially wealthy, culture was always underscored in the Emanuel household, whether it be the symphony, ballet lessons or summers spent in Israel.  The rewards were the freedom to roam within this set structure.”  

“Brothers Emanuel” is neither a biography nor an autobiography.  It is a memoir and therefore a series of the antics of three brothers as they progress from childhood to adulthood, much like Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”  It is the classic story of a middleclass journey from the city to the suburbs.  

Well written and an interesting and entertaining read, it is not a critical self-analysis.  But it is a deeply personal story, and many readers will identify with the Emanuel siblings.