Author Interviews
5:33 am
Sun March 24, 2013

Love, Roughhousing And Fifth Position In 'Brothers Emanuel'

Originally published on Mon March 25, 2013 9:40 am

The brothers in the Emanuel family are known for their success and for their chutzpah. The youngest is Ari Emanuel, a high-powered Hollywood agent. The HBO show Entourage actually based a character on Ari, and that character is a bit, well, blunt — threatening, for example, to rip out someone's tongue and serve it to his son's pet lizard.

Then there's middle brother and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a famously tough, foul-mouthed former White House chief of staff and congressman. "Rahm was, for many years, the quiet brother," eldest brother Ezekiel tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "I know that is hard to believe today, but it's true."

Ezekiel Emanuel — he prefers to be called Zeke — is a doctor, a professor at an Ivy League university, and an expert on health policy. He's also the author of Brothers Emanuel, a new memoir about his family and growing up in Chicago.

And he says Rahm's public persona now is really nothing like his shy personality growing up. "As a matter of fact, early in his life, I think around age 3 or something, my parents took him to a neurologist and had him examined because they were worried that he was so quiet, maybe there was some sort of developmental delay. And the neurologist assured them there was no developmental delay, the kid has every neuron firing ... he chooses not to talk. He was observing the world, taking it in."

Ari was the "devil kid," his brother says, "always pushing just to the limit but holding back before people explode. Although sometimes he could step over the limit. Now, when we get together, certainly four-letter words fly, but there's also just a tremendous amount of affection and loyalty, and intense love."

And Zeke was the dominant brother growing up, he recalls. "When we were at home, it was a constant free-for-all, and it was usually those two guys ganging up against me, but not always."

Their father, Benjamin, was an Israeli immigrant who came to the U.S. after attending medical school in Switzerland after World War II. "He came with $25 in his pocket and a very, very treasured Parker pen," Zeke recalls. "[He] came to Mount Sinai hospital in Chicago, and my dad is working hard to be a doctor and taking care of patients. And he goes down to the emergency room one night to get an X-ray taken of a baby, and my mom happens to be the radiology technician. He's dog-tired, so he lays down on a stretcher, and she finishes the X-ray. He's asleep. She lets the stop on the stretcher — she disconnects it — and he goes flying out the door into the cold October air." And the rest is history.

Early in their marriage, his parents spent some time in Israel, but they eventually returned to Chicago, where it was occasionally tough to be a Jewish kid growing up in the inner city in the 1960s. "We were, I would say, in our neighborhood, somewhat unusual," Zeke recalls. "We got called all sorts of names, k - - - and — because my mother was heavily involved in the civil rights movement, we had a lot of African-American friends who came over, either to socialize but also to work in the protest movements, so we had our share of prejudice and our share of street brawls over being both Jewish and friends with African-Americans."

Rahm's fondness for ballet probably didn't help either, though Zeke says their mother would have been thrilled had he chosen to pursue it as a full-time career. "It's lost in the mysteries of time exactly why, when she thought we all should take dancing lessons, the dance she picked was not, say, ballroom dancing or modern, but classical ballet," he says. "We were the only three boys on the North Shore, gotta be, who ever took ballet. Fortunately, we had private lessons that were just the three of us." The brothers took ballet for a year — Zeke says he still remembers the basic positions, though he and Ari had no knack for the dance. "Rahm really did take to it and was very good, and despite lots of teasing, as you might imagine, persisted with it."

Their father might not have been so thrilled had Rahm taken up a career in the ballet, but Zeke Emanuel attributes that to the caution of an immigrant. "He wanted his kids to do something safe. So when Ari said he wanted to be an agent, he's like, no, no, no, get an MBA. ... He's risk-averse for his children. Fortunately, his children don't listen to him, and taking the risks have been the most important things in making successful careers for each of us."

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The brothers in the Emanuel family are known for their success and for their chutzpah. The youngest is Ari Emanuel. He's a high-powered Hollywood agent. The HBO show "Entourage" actually based a character on Ari Emanuel. And he's a bit blunt.

(SOUNDBITE OF HBO SERIES, "ENTOURAGE")

JEREMY PIVEN: (as Ari Gold) Speak or I'll rip your tongue out and serve it to my son's lizard.

MARTIN: That's Jeremy Piven playing the Ari Emanuel character. Then there's Rahm Emanuel, the middle brother. He is the mayor of Chicago, a former White House chief of staff and a congressman. And he has developed - let's say, tough reputation from his time in politics.

Here's Rahm Emanuel describing his relationship with President Obama.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: We just don't share a home state. We also share exotic names that were given to us by our fathers. Barack, which in Swahili means Blessed. And Rahm, roughly translated from Hebrew: go screw yourself.

(LAUGHTER)

EZEKIEL EMANUEL: Rahm was, for many years, the quiet brother.

(LAUGHTER)

EMANUEL: I know that is hard to believe today but it's true.

MARTIN: Then there's the third Emanuel brother.

And you want me to call you Ezekiel?

EMANUEL: No. No one does. My mom never even called me Ezekiel. So...

MARTIN: So, Zeke Emanuel is the oldest of the three Emanuel brothers. He's a doctor, a professor at an Ivy League university, and an expert on health policy. And now, he's the author of a new memoir about his family and growing up in Chicago. It's called "The Brothers Emanuel." And Zeke Emanuel says his brother Rahm's public persona now is really nothing like his shy personality growing up.

EMANUEL: As a matter of fact, early in his life, I think around age three or something, my parents took him to a neurologist and had his examined because they were worried that he was so quiet maybe there was some developmental delay. And the neurologist assured them there's no developmental delay. The kid has every neuron firing. It just - he chooses not to talk. He's just observing the world, taking it in. Ari was always the, what we call in Hebrew, the shovav(ph), the sort of devil kid, always pushing just to the limit but holding back before people explode, although sometimes he could step over the limit.

MARTIN: This is more than a book about you and your brothers. It really is a holistic kind of family portrait of an American immigrant family. Your father was Israeli, your mom was from Chicago. How did they meet?

EMANUEL: Yeah. So, my father left Israel in 1946 to go to medical school in Switzerland. And he finished his medical school and then came to the United States to do internship and residency. And he came with $25 in his pocket and a very, very treasured Parker pen, and comes to Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago. And my dad is, you know, working hard to be a doctor and taking care of patients and then he goes down to the emergency room one night to get an X-ray taken of a baby. And my mom happens to be the radiology technician. He's dog-tired, so he lays down on a stretcher. And she finishes the X-ray. He's asleep. She lets the stop on the wheel of the stretcher, she disconnects it, and he goes flying out the door into the cold October air. And so he walks back in, he likes her sense of humor and they start dating. And literally before you know it, in just a matter of weeks, they're engaged.

MARTIN: So, you write in the book about a particular hobby that your brother Rahm had. And there's been a lot of publicity over this, but he was into ballet. You all took ballet lessons, but for Rahm this really kind of touched him a special way. It stuck. So, my question is if Rahm had gone to your parents and said, you know what, I think I have a gift; I think that a career in ballet is really where my heart is, would they had been OK with that?

EMANUEL: Oh, my mom would have been thrilled. She would have been happier than if he'd gone into politics I think, actually.

MARTIN: Oh, really?

EMANUEL: Oh, yeah. It's lost in the mysteries of time exactly why when she thought we all should take dancing lessons, the dance she picked was not safe - ballroom dancing or modern - but classical ballet. We were the only three boys, got to be, on the North Shore who ever took ballet. Fortunately, we had private lessons - there were just the three of us. And she made us all take it for a year. You know, I remember first position, second position, fifth position.

MARTIN: Wow. Fifth - this is hard.

EMANUEL: And we did a lot of stuff at the bar. And it is true that Ari and I couldn't get out of there fast enough. First of all, I have no ability to dance whatsoever. Rahm really did take to it and was very good. And despite lots of teasing, as you might imagine, persisted with it and became quite good. And absolutely true that my mom had her druthers and he really wanted to go into ballet as a career option, she would have supported it 1000 percent.

MARTIN: What about your dad?

EMANUEL: My dad was always a more narrow - not narrow in a negative sense but, you know, cautious about his kids.

MARTIN: Well, dancing, that's kind of, that's risky. That's not a lot of stability.

EMANUEL: I also think it's typical immigrant mentalities. He wanted his kids to do something safe. So, when Ari said he wanted to be an agent, he's like, no, no, no, get an MBA. You know, risk adverse for his children. Fortunately, his children don't listen to him. And taking the risks have been the most important things in making successful careers for each of us.

MARTIN: Ezekiel Emanuel. His new book is called "Brothers Emanuel." He joined us from WXPN in Philadelphia. Zeke, thanks very much for making the time to talk to us.

EMANUEL: Thank you. It's been really nice.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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