From JTA, by Ron Kampeas · November 9, 2008:
WASHINGTON (JTA) – Political insight, killer in a fight, Yiddishkeit – it’s an inseparable package when it comes to Rahm Emanuel, say those who know President-elect Barack Obama’s pick to be the next White House chief of staff.
Since his days as a fund-raiser and then a "political adviser" – read: enforcer – for President Clinton, Emanuel has earned notoriety as a no-holds-barred politico. Accept the good with the bad because it’s of a piece, said Steve Rabinowitz, who worked with Emanuel in the Clinton White House. "He can be a ‘mamzer,’ but he’s our mamzer," said Rabinowitz...
...Even his allies acknowledge that Emanuel, 48, can be on edge at times.
...Emanuel, an Illinois congressman who boasts strong ties to his local Jewish community and the Jewish state, also can be seen as embodying Obama’s stated commitment to Israeli security and diplomacy: During the first Iraq war, Emanuel flew to Israel as a volunteer to help maintain military vehicles. Two years later he was an aide to Clinton, helping to push along the newly launched Oslo process.
Within four months of joining the U.S. House of Representatives in 2003, Emanuel had an impressive command of the issues, said Michael Kotzin, the director of the Chicago Jewish Community Relations Council. "He gave a thorough and insightful analysis of issues on our agenda," said Kotzin, adding that Emanuel was responsive to his Jewish constituents.
...One thing Emanuel is not, all agree, is the president-elect’s conciliatory signal to the Jewish community ....Emanuel was chosen strictly for his political skills and his closeness to Obama, said Rabinowitz, whose public relations firms does work with both Jewish groups and the Democratic Party and its affiliates. His closeness to the Jewish community "would be a tiny factor, if at all" in the hiring, Rabinowitz said.
...Emanuel will be a strong voice for Israeli security – but also one with the standing to cast a skeptical eye on some Israeli claims. "Rahm, precisely because he’s a lover of Israel, will not have much patience with Israeli excuse-making,” Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for The Atlantic, suggested on his blog. “So when the next prime minister tells President Obama that as much as he’d love to, he can’t dismantle the Neve Manyak settlement outpost...Rahm will call out such nonsense, and it will be very hard for right-wing Israelis to come back and accuse him of being a self-hating Jew.”
...In general, Emanuel is fiercely loyal to his family, and they were a consideration in his hesitation to take work he’s always dreamed of having – he waited two days to say yes. Obama, in his statement announcing the pick, recognized the pain it would cause Emanuel’s wife, Amy, and “their children, Zach, Ilana and Leah."
Emanuel, born to an Israeli doctor who married a local woman after he moved to Chicago in the mid-1950s, speaks Hebrew and fondly recalls summering each year in Israel as a child – including just after the 1967 Six-Day War. He attends Anshe Sholom, a Modern Orthodox synagogoue in Chicago, and sends his children to Jewish day school.
...“He has a very deep commitment and feel for Yiddishkeit," [his rabbi, Asher] Lopatin said, "and it’s a Yiddishkeit that’s about ‘tikkun olam,’ having a positive effect on the world."