• Health

10 Questions for Zeke Emanuel

4 minute read
Belinda Luscombe

You’re the older brother of Rahm, the mayor of Chicago, and Ari, an extremely successful talent agent. And you’re a bioethicist and one of the architects of Obamacare. Isn’t writing a book about how great your family is a bit unseemly?
I didn’t write a book about how great my family is. There are lots of warts and idiocies and foolishness–a lot to make fun of in the book. I wrote Brothers Emanuel because I had begun jotting down stories for my kids. And then we began getting a lot of questions: What did Mom put in the cereal? Three successful brothers, all different areas.

Growing up in Chicago, the Emanuel brothers were fighters. Would we call them bullies these days?
We were definitely fighters. It was a rare night when there wasn’t blood on the floor because we were beating each other up. But we were quite the opposite of bullies. We did not go out and attack people, but we did defend ourselves. When we were called kikes, we didn’t start that fight, but we did not back down. I’d say that we stood up to bullies.

What’s the most pointless competition you three had?
When Ari’s fingers got ripped off because [he and Rahm] were competing over an open nut jar. But everything was a competition. Eating was a competition.

Did you give your daughters as much freedom as your mom gave you as kids?
No. We would probably haul my mom in for child neglect now. I was 6 years old. Rahm was 4. I was given 18¢, and I used to walk two blocks from school every day to catch the public bus, not the school bus, home with Rahm.

Your mother was a classic ’60s activist. She marched and was arrested and spent some nights in jail. How did that affect you as kids?
Our childhood was unusual. We were a white Jewish family in a part of the city that didn’t have many white Jewish families and had a lot of black families who we’d play with. And we’d be called names. It’s not the kind of thing that most kids grew up with, even in our era.

As the oldest son, you were the one who followed your father into medicine.
Yes. Rahm and Ari owe me big-time for that.

Does it rankle that they are more famous?
Rankle? I am what I am. I’ve fashioned being a doctor to my own talents and interests. I think I have made an important difference in the world.

To what do you attribute the Emanuel brothers’ success?
I would put success in quotes. We strive. First, I think we got this striving from my mother to make the world a better place. A second important thing is you never rest on the last victory. There’s always more to do, which has sort of created this perpetual-motion machine of energy and exuberance. And maybe the third important thing, my father’s admonition that offense is the best defense. We don’t give up.

Do you still not have a TV?
I don’t own a TV. I don’t own a car. I don’t Facebook. I don’t tweet.

But you have four cell phones.
I’m down to two, thankfully.

Your brothers are a national source of fascination. Where do you think they’ll be in five years?
Ari will be a superagent running a bigger company with even more influence. Rahm would still be mayor of Chicago. I will probably continue to be my academic self. The one thing I can guarantee, none of us will have taken a cruise, none of us will be sitting on a beach with a piña colada.

Why isn’t your sister in the book?
There’s a short snippet. But the book’s called Brothers Emanuel. She is adopted, much younger than we are. She didn’t grow up in the sort of rough-and-tumble of the three brothers.

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