American lawyer and politician from Wilmington, Delaware
Politician. Born Rahm Israel Emanuel on November 29, 1959 in Chicago to an Israeli pediatrician, Benjamin Emanuel, and a Jewish American x-ray technician, Martha Smulevitz. In his youth, Benjamin passed codes for Irgun, a militant Zionist group that sought Israeli independence. Martha, a Jewish American, was active in the civil rights movement and briefly owned a Chicago rock-and-roll club. The family took the Emanuel surname in 1933 as a tribute to uncle Emanuel Auerbach, who was slain in a skirmish with Arabs in Jerusalem.
Rahm was the second of four siblings. His older brother, Ezekiel, is now an oncologist and nationally renowned medical ethicist at Harvard. His younger brother, Ariel, is a Hollywood television agent and the basis for the character of Ari Gold on HBO's hit TV series, "Entourage." Rahm is said to be the inspiration for the character Josh Lyman on television's, "The West Wing." His younger sister, Shoshana, was adopted after a doctor's visit to Rahm's father revealed she had suffered a brain hemorrhage at birth.
As a child, Emanuel and his siblings took regular field trips to art museums and civil rights rallies. According to his mother, the children were expected to not only help prepare dinner, but be well-versed in the daily news as well. They were often quizzed in current events over family meals. The boys also took ballet lessons at their mother’s urging. Rahm particularly excelled at dance and, while attending New Trier West High School, earned a scholarship to Joffrey Ballet, Chicago’s Premiere Ballet Company.
Emanuel turned down the opportunity to instead attend Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, a school with a solid dance program. In 1980, while still a student at Sarah Lawrence, he worked as a fundraiser for the Chicago congressional campaign for David Robinson. "Someone would contribute $500. He'd call back and say, 'Thank you very much…we need $1,000,'" former Democratic National Committee chairman, David Wilhelm, recalls. This reputation as a tenacious fundraiser would follow him throughout his career.
After Emanuel graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1981, he went on to attend Northwestern University in Chicago. During his studies there he also worked in local and national politics, including a stint with Democrat Paul Simon's 1984 election campaign for U.S. Senate. In 1985, Emanuel received a master's in Speech and Communication from Northwestern. His first job post-graduation was with consumer rights organization Illinois Public Action.
In 1988, Emanuel served as the national campaign director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and in 1989 he became the senior advisor and chief fundraiser for Richard Daley's campaign for Chicago mayor. During this time, he raised an unprecedented $7 million for Daley.
Some sources report that Emanuel served briefly as a civilian volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. It is said he was stationed in one of Israel's northern bases, where he rust-proofed brakes. Other news reports deny this claim, saying that while he is deeply committed to Israel’s safety, Emanuel never served the army in any capacity.
Emanuel's fundraising abilities helped win him a job as Director of Finance for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992. Following the campaign, Emanuel became a senior advisor in the Clinton White House, where he was responsible for organizing the meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1993. He was also a leading strategist in the unsuccessful push for universal healthcare in 1994.
Rahm Emanuel left the White House in 1998 to work as the Managing Director for investment banking firm, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, in Chicago. In 2000, President Clinton named Emanuel to the Board of Directors for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, Freddie Mac. During this time, it is estimated that Emanuel made more than $18 million. Emanuel resigned from the board in 2001 during his successful run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
At the beginning of his second term as a representative in 2005, Emanuel was assigned to the House Ways and Means Committee, a group that oversees taxes, trade, Social Security, and Medicare issues. He was also appointed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to serve as Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, after the passing of the former chairman, Robert Matsui. Under Emanuel’s leadership, Democrats gained 30 seats in the House, giving them the majority in the House of Representatives.
In January of 2007, the new Democratic majority elected Emanuel to serve as Democratic Caucus Chair. This is the fourth-highest ranking member of House Democratic leadership.
On November 6, 2008, Emanuel accepted the position of White House Chief of Staff for Barack Obama.
Emanuel is married to Amy Rule, whom he met on a blind date. The couple has three children, son Zachariah and daughters Ilana and Leah.