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Zeke, Ari, Rahm Emanuel: had "fights" over "being called kikes"

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WASHINGTON -- When the Emanuel brothers -- Rahm, Ari and Zeke -- were growing up, they got into fights after being called "kikes" and found their family being called "n-----lovers" because their mother brought home African-American friends.

Those are two stories finding their way into a memoir Ezekiel "Zeke" Emanuel has written about his exceptional family, titled Growing Up Emanuel. Rahm, who will be 52 on Tuesday, is the Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff. Ari, 50, is a Hollywood super-agent. Zeke, 54, is a famous bioethicist with doctorates in medicine and political philosophy, and a former White House health policy adviser.

Benjamin, their father, is the Israeli-born father who immigrated to the U.S. Marsha is their civil rights-activist mother. Shoshanna is their adopted younger sister, who has stayed out of the limelight as she traveled down a troubled path while her stepbrothers achieved national fame.

The three wildly successful brothers, raised on Chicago's North Side and Wilmette, have been a subject of national fascination since the New York Times Magazine on June 15, 1997, featured them in a story in which author Elisabeth Bumiller wrote, "together, Emanuel Freres are a triumvirate for the '90s." By 2011, the rising stars in Bumiller's piece are supernovas.

Random House said in a statement, Zeke's Growing Up Emanuel will "provide a candid, intimate account of his childhood and adolescence growing up in 1960s Chicago . . ." He will write about his parents "and describe the free-wheeling, competitive, civic-minded and over-achieving environment that his parents fostered. Emanuel casts new details on well-known episodes of his and his brothers' early lives and reveals never-before-told stories of their growing up in Chicago."

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It's Nov. 6, and I am in the audience of a symposium in Washington on creativity organized by Moment, the Jewish magazine, and Zeke is one of the participants. Rahm, perhaps the most famous brother, is known for being abrasive; a character in the television show Entourage was modeled after the combative Ari; Zeke takes pride in being argumentative as he tells stories providing a peek into his memoir.

Zeke is now at the University of Pennsylvania holding an appointment shared by the medical and business schools; he also contributes to the New York Times op-ed page.

Said Zeke of his youth, "the Jewishness I was raised in was always arguing."

The Emanuel brothers, all graduates of New Trier West, spent time in Israel growing up as young kids. Rahm, in a 2008 interview on the "Charlie Rose" show with his brothers, said the boys spent six summers between 1967 and 1973 in Israel.

"I do think that in my family, it was the three brothers who were always together," Zeke tells the Moment audience. "We actually slept in the same bedroom until I was 10 years old. And then every summer after that, we were in Israel and slept in the same bedroom for all the summers.

"We were constantly with each other and constantly at each other's throat," Zeke continued, "so there was always a need to excel one from the other except when the outside world came in at us, and then it was three against whatever the world was.''

Marsha Emanuel "went to great lengths to embarrass us. When I was in sixth grade, all three of us had to take ballet lessons. Now, otherwise virile men, boys in sixth grade, fourth grade and second grade, taking ballet lessons is like not done. But to the extent all three of us had to do it, we would protect each other. So once, when we went back to school and some kid made fun of our taking ballet, my youngest brother made sure he never made fun of us again."

The three brothers wanted to chart their own paths, but they were always supportive of each other, "especially when the outside world was encroaching in various ways."

One reality, Zeke said, was being subjected to anti-Semitism. "We had a lot of fights about, you know, being called kikes."

Their mother, "heavily involved in the civil rights movement," happened "to have a lot of African-American friends coming over to the house and so we were constantly being called n-----lovers."

The brothers were encouraged by their parents to push against authority, with frequent run-ins at school.

"Whatever the gym teacher said couldn't possibly be right, so Mom would be down in the principal's office" to defend her kids.

Pushing back, said Zeke, "I think that was pretty much expected in my house."

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 28, 2011 12:21 PM.

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