This spring, the next great American dynasty will take a spiritual vacation. No, the Kennedys aren’t off to Hyannis Port. The Bushes aren’t whacking brush somewhere in Central Texas. The Roosevelts aren’t in Oyster Bay.
The Emanuel boys are heading to Israel.
Ari and Rahm Emanuel are returning to the land of their forefathers—and their actual father, Benjamin—to celebrate the bar mitzvahs of their eldest sons, Noah and Zach. That’s two more Emanuel men coming of age. And if you think the current generation is insufferably driven and accomplished (all three, including older brother Zeke, being titans in Hollywood, government, and medicine), just wait till you see the mensches in the wings.
For example, there’s Rebekah Emanuel, Zeke’s oldest. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude, near the tippy top of her 2007 Yale class, with 29-straight As, she has been visiting developing nations, studying there and aiding the infirm. She has been awarded some of the nation’s most prestigious prizes and fellowships: the Simon, the Mitchell, the Fox, the Sewell, the Jerome Medalie Endowment (which she used to work at a hospice in Uganda), and the Haas Prize for Fundamental Humanity.
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Benjamin & Marsha: Timothy Devine; Ariel: Kevin Winter / Getty Images
Oh, she’s also a gifted sculptor.
Rebekah and her sisters and cousins—most still under 18—have already demonstrated enough collective precocity to suggest they’ll be outshining their parents in a decade or two. From their hard-charging patriarch Benjamin (a former member of the Irgun, a militant Zionist group) on down, the Emanuels are poised to become one of the great families in American life: a sprawling but tight-knit group of overachievers—the Jewish Kennedys.
“Oh come on, this is an exaggeration,” said Benjamin Emanuel, reached at his suburban Chicago home on New Year’s Eve. “We are better than the Kennedys.”
Just about anyone who knows the three generations of Emanuels in private life exudes admiration.
“Right now, this is a horizontal admiration, not yet a vertical one,” said Rabbi Jack Moline, spiritual leader of the Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, Virginia, the synagogue attended by Rahm Emanuel’s family. “Ben and Marsha [Ben’s wife] are not in the public eye as well. The offspring I know are wonderful kids. But most of them are well below the age of stellar accomplishment.”
“Oh come on, this is an exaggeration,” said family patriarch Benjamin Emanuel. “We are better than the Kennedys.”
Each of the three public Emanuel men has three children of his own: four boys and five girls in total. The oldest are the daughters of Zeke, the senior adviser for health policy to the director of the Office of Management and Budget. The young women were raised in Boston and then Chicago, near their grandparents. Rebekah has spent her post-collegiate years working with the Ugandan parliament to deal with gender-based crimes, studying how conflict-related bereavement impacts family members’ political activism in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and investigating ways to improve care for the terminally ill in New Delhi. She has been outspoken in her support for the people of Darfur.
Gabrielle (Dartmouth ’10) is a former varsity horseback rider. She wrote a book about AIDS and other illnesses in Uganda, to which Rebekah contributed, and has recently been working with the homeless communities in New Hampshire and Boston. Natalia (Yale ’12) is already an accomplished actor, appearing this summer in a Fringe Festival production of Peace Warriors, a “sexy play about academics and Middle East politics,” according to The Washington Post. She is also active in the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project. The young women were raised without television.
Rebekah Emanuel declined an interview request over email. “The thing is, as I’m sure you’ll understand, I am in this funny spot of really being a private person and, recently, there has been plenty of media all of a sudden. I like to lead my life in the day-to-day happenings, joys, and challenges. It is important to me to remain simply a private person.”