The oldest of Benjamin and Marsha Emanuel, he a pediatrician and she a devoted mother and Civil Rights activist, Ezekiel Emanuel talked to Shore magazine about his recently released book Brothers Emanuel: An American Family (Random House $27).
The highly recognizable and successful siblings are Ezekiel, Rahm and Ari.
Ezekiel, nicknamed Zeke, is an oncologist and former special advisor for health policy to the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, and now Vice Provost for Global Initiatives and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. Rahm, was the former White House chief of staff and now mayor of Chicago. The youngest, Ari, is a high earning Hollywood agent said to be the model for Ari Gold, the crafty, shark-like but ultimately lovable agent in the TV series Entourage.
Raised in Chicago and later Wilmette in a highly charged, high energy family devoted to each other, to achieving justice and equality for all and also given to vociferously debating their ideas, the Emanuels eschewed many of the upper middle class trappings of a doctor’s family and instead, focused on education (all three sons attended a private Jewish school), travel and culture.
Several times your mother let herself get arrested in order to gain media attention for furthering the cause of integration and also took you and our brothers to political rallies. Your dad, before coming to America, fought in Israel’s war for independence. Your parents also often took in other children when their parents couldn’t take care of them. When did you realize your family was different from others?
It’s kind of funny; you don’t really think of it much. I think it was less clear to us that we were different. We often played in areas where we were the only whites, but I don’t think we thought that was unusual. What was different was being called “n-lovers” because of what my mother did.
One of my first take-aways from your book is how much you and your two brothers fought with each other, sometimes so violently that there were physical injuries -- once you had three teeth knocked out and two of Rahm’s fingertips had to be sewn back on by a surgeon. Can I assume the three of you no longer have physical altercations?
I wouldn’t assume that our physical rambunctiousness is over. But the fact we all survived shows that we really weren’t that tough. And we still have arguments about books, ideas and other things.
As much as you fought each other, you also seemed so amazingly close and always looked out for each other. You talk with real compassion about your brother Ari’s struggles in schools, and despite the immense competitiveness you all had, you mention in your book how neither you nor Rahm ever teased him about that.
It was an interesting situation. As competitive as we were in our house, we were very unified outside of it. That’s the way it remains today, too.
When you decided to write your memoir, were there any family events that you and your brothers decided not to make public?
There are about four or five stories that we decided shouldn’t go into the book, but overall my brothers were all for me writing it. Probably my daughters are my fiercest critics. My brothers are a close second, but they’re also the most supportive. They are always there for me. And surprisingly, we didn’t fight about what to keep out.
So how like Ari Gold is your brother Ari?
I don’t know. I don’t have a TV, so I haven’t seen the show. I’ve only heard about it.
You don’t have a TV?
No, I don’t want to waste the time. I don’t find TV, videos or surfing the Web particularly interesting, or intellectually or otherwise stimulating.
What do you want readers to take away from your book?
I think this is a classic immigrant story. It’s also a story of a different age when things were freer and seemed safer. My father believed that travel was a great educator so we traveled, including going to Israel, often. My mother was many things but never a tiger mother or a helicopter parent. We went to plays. It was a very different culture, it’s important for people to understand this. We can’t just reproduce the times but there are some things we can do and give to our children.
In one telling anecdote, you recount the time when you were young, and you learned your father charged his patients money to treat them. You ran home telling your grandmother how awful that was. Did that incident impact your involvement as a top health care advisor to President Obama on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act?
My father being a doctor certainly influenced me to enter the medical field. As for the Affordable Care Act, it’s a big achievement. It's something we’ve been trying to achieve for 100 years, starting with Teddy Roosevelt in 1912.