November 15, 2019

Hollywood superagent Ari Emanuel shows his softer side at Los Angeles Jewish benefit [VIDEO]

If you've heard of Hollywood superagent Ari Emanuel, you've probably also heard descriptions like “ruthless,” “brash” or “combative.” So it was a surprising turn at last night’s American Jewish World Service gala when Emanuel took the podium to honor his older brother, Ezekiel “Zeke” Emanuel, and showed his softer side.

“As I’m looking through my notes, I realize the chutzpah of AJWS,” Emanuel began, “they have written a speech for me, about my brother.

“Only Jews!” he joked.

Though Emanuel admitted the AJWS speech wasn’t “horrible” and cited some highlights — “They talk about our parents; the importance of love and education; about you failing calculus and still getting into Harvard; how we [including other brother, Rahm, mayor of Chicago] had to live up to your grades…” – he also went off script, addressing the audience with more personal comments.

“Our father was an Israeli, he was a pediatrician, [and] our mother was an activist; Zeke followed in both of their footsteps,” Emanuel said.

As chair for the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, Zeke is considered one of the country’s foremost authorities on healthcare. Following the example of his parents, he combines his work as a practicing physician – Zeke specializes in breast oncology – with global activism that seeks to expand medical access for all. He is a prolific author and scholar, with nine books and hundreds of articles under his belt, and is often referred to as the “architect” of President Obama’s landmark health care legislation.

But to his younger brother, Ari, he’s simply a role model: “He’s loving, he’s forceful, he’s a thoughtful doctor, he’s a great dad and he’s a believer like my mother,” Emanuel said.

For a family well known for its Israeli-inspired toughness, Emanuel painted a portrait of life shaped by religious values.

“Our parents believed in justice and equality,” he said, “[that] no matter how much money you made, you treat people well and you lift people up.”

He praised his brother’s unquenchable curiosity, and described what motivates his ambition: “[When] we talk, I say, ‘Why do you do what you do?’ And [Zeke] always talk[s] about wanting to make a difference in the world, and wanting to help people.

“And as Jews, the most important thing – [which] you just heard from the President is helping one person,” Emanuel added, referring to President Obama’s video address in which he spoke of the Talmudic idea that to save one life is to save a world.

Towards the end of his speech, Emanuel took off his glasses and turned away from the teleprompter. He looked over at his brother, who was standing behind a partition next to the stage.

“I wrote [my brother] an email the other day saying how proud I was of him, because of the healthcare bill,” Emanuel said, choking up. “I know that was an emotional time for him, and my brother [Rahm], and I don’t think it could have happened without my brother [Zeke].

“So I love you very much,” he concluded. “That’s the only reason I’m here, because I do really, really love you. So thank you everybody for honoring my brother.”