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Forward and Back

Though officially an exercise in change and progress, Rahm Emanuel’s inauguration as Chicago’s first Jewish mayor was nonetheless steeped in well-worn myths and traditions

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According to the official program for Rahm Emanuel’s swearing-in ceremony yesterday, the rabbi spoke twice.

The leaflet had Jack Moline, a Chicago native who is currently the rabbi of the Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, Va., offering his benediction both before and after the Chicago Children’s Choir.

Perhaps listing Moline twice is Emanuel’s way of reminding the city that he is its first Jewish mayor, a fact that most of the inaugural coverage will mention and then quickly drop. Or perhaps, since the rabbi actually only spoke once, it was a typo, if it is conceivable to imagine that Rahm’s media staff—which reporters here have criticized for their micro-managing—made a mistake. The reduplication reminded me of an image that has haunted me throughout the campaign: an Emanuel caught between the old and the new. As the New York Times’ Monica Davey observed in a May 16 story, however forcefully Rahm charges toward change, in Chicago, “old alliances and neighborhood tribalism are hardly forgotten.”

Indeed, these tensions roiled throughout the inaugural festivities, which began on Saturday. It was raining and in the 40s that morning when Emanuel’s black SUV pulled up at a community garden on Chicago’s South Side. First to emerge was a staffer carrying a shovel and a pitchfork. The mayor-elect then leapt from the car and stalked around the garden in a Patagonia fleece, jeans, sneakers, and no coat. The rest of the family was there too, also coatless, though Emanuel’s wife Amy had a pashmina chicly wrapped around her neck.

Mr. Mayor, is this a metaphor for rooting out political corruption? a reporter asked as Rahm began pounding his shovel into the dirt.

Sure, he replied, coming up with a shovelful of weeds, plastic, and dandelions. “If you want to see it that way.”

But then he seemed to think better of it. “Is this OK to throw out?” he asked, holding up his shovel to no one in particular. When a garden staffer assured Rahm that it was, he poured the dirt gently into a wheelbarrow.

Several hours later, the rain had not abated, and a crowd of about 100 gathered in Grant Park to hear Chicago—the ’70s supergroup that got their start here, that is.

Given Rahm’s platform of change, the choice seemed, at best, counterintuitive. If you are advocating change, you might want to eliminate references to Chicago as the Windy City, the City of Big Shoulders, Chi-Town, or the City That Works or adjectives like “muscular.” Or at least keep them to a minimum.

As usual, Team Rahm succeeded more with the snacks and the swag than sophistication, offering rain-drenched spectators lip balm, granola bars, bottled water, and rain ponchos.

By Monday, it was still cold but clear. Thousands gathered in Grant Park at the dazzling Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion, the brainchild of Emanuel’s immediate predecessor, Richard M. Daley. Before the ceremony, U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, former Obama hand David Axelrod, and other high-powered pols wandered near the press tent, granting sound-bites.

Common wisdom holds that the swearing-in ceremony and inaugural address were models of diversity and testimonies to Emanuel’s seriousness about change and reform.

Maybe so, but just as the band Chicago provides residents with a sentimental view of the city and its musical heritage, Rahm’s inaugural address offered listeners a sentimental fable about its nickname: It is called the Second City, because, after the Chicago Fire of 1871, the residents rebuilt the city “from the ground up,” he said.

That is one story about how Chicago earned its nickname, to be sure. But telling only this part of the moniker’s history does everyone a disservice. The name may also have taken root when Chicago became the country’s second most-populous city around 1890, and it stuck when A.J. Liebling used it as the title of a book that compared the city’s residents—unfavorably—with New Yorkers.

Things have changed since then, of course. Chicago, as someone once pointed out to me, is not Chelm. Yet, the most recent census showed that Chicago is now third in the nation, population-wise, and shrinking. If Chicago is to change, as Rahm wishes, it will be, as Rabbi Moline said in his speech, quoting the Talmudic sage Rabbi Chanina, “because we are praying for the welfare of the government, praying that every person will help fix what is broken.”

As I walked away from Pritzker Pavilion through Grant Park, I could not help but notice the many cracks lining the sidewalk.

Rachel Shteir is the author of The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting, which is to be published by The Penguin Press next month.

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ricki says:

Pedestrian observations that are supposed to offer great insight but really amount to a whole bunch of nothing.

A Chicagoan says:

Rachel Shteir’s coverage of Emanuel has been consistently (and hilariously) dour since his campaign started. What’s her beef with Rahm? Is it because she predicted that Chicago would never elect a Jewish mayor?

Dour is right. I was sick of Shteir’s commentary during the mayoral election and I’m sick of it now. The sidewalks have cracks everywhere, even in New York.

Tablet, please either find someone else to report on Rahm or give it up altogether.

grampsny says:

I don’t understand the underlying vitriol in Ms. Shteir’s writing. She sounds like the only thing that would please her would be the Mayor’s renunciation of his Judaism. My Mother would have said…”it’s a shanda”. My Father would have said…”Feh! I say…If you are a reporter covering such an important event, then report. If you are a purported bylined columnist, write with some class. She sounds like she is writing for an anti-Semetic publication. Is she ashamed of the Mayor’s religion? Does she also cringe at the annual NYC Diocese roasts? Would she have been more comfortable with a Father Coughlan doing the benediction? Tell her that Jews have come out of the closet!

Who cares says:

A powerful Jewish man with a shiksa wife and gentile children. So what else is new?

notty rybak says:

I do not know if ‘SATURDAY’ was a typo.If it wasn’t, I reccomend that if he makes a second Bar or Bat Mitzvah he go to the Vatcan and not to Israel



Ben says:

Mrs. Emanuel is not a “shiksa” but rather is a Jew-by-choice. The family attends a conservative shul (Anshe Emet) and the children attend a Jewish day school. Shame on “who cares” for spreading lies.

Will Edwards says:

Hey all, just wanted to say… Mr Emanuel works on Shabbos, preaches a two state solution for Israel, and has backed many causes not really favorable to the Jewish state or people (if you are observant) Claiming he is a conservative is rather putting the term loosely. If he follows Judaism at all he would have to be a reform Jew. Your attacks on this woman who wrote the piece is like slapping a child for telling the truth just because you don’t like what was said. As far as Mr Emanuel’s personal beliefs they’re best left up to him and it isn’t our job to weigh them against ours. Nor is it ours to take an accusatory tone with Ms.Shteir.

I’ve always thought of Rahm as one of those “I’m ok, you’re ok” kind of Jew. Not really an observer but he hits the temple around Yom Kippur etc… probably like most of you.

Judy West Hollywood says:

And thus the temple was destroyed.

A Jew, by any other name, is still a Jew. The 21st Century requires that we Jews stop our own “civil wars” regarding the efficacy of various sects and which one is

Really Kosher. Mr. Emanuel is proud of his heritage, and his family. Who are you to question or besmerch that??

Will Edwards says:

Oh yes! A Jew by many other names… is still and always a Jew. Still I don’t elect my officials based entirely on their being Jewish. Now… if everyone was a Jew what would you say?

Who cares says:

Amy Rule is a shiksa. She had a quick phony “conversion” just to marry Rahm. Referring her as a “Jew-by-choice” is a joke. Rahm’s children are gentiles even if they pretend to be Jews.

Who made “Who cares” the judge and jury of Rahm Emanuel’ family? If you have nothing decent to contribute please refrain from offering your opinion as fact. Remember the great rabbinic sage The Chofetz Chiam.

Wham bam thank you, ma\’am, my questonis are answered!


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Forward and Back

Though officially an exercise in change and progress, Rahm Emanuel’s inauguration as Chicago’s first Jewish mayor was nonetheless steeped in well-worn myths and traditions

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