" Emanuel was born in Chicago, Illinois. His father, the Jerusalem-born Benjamin M. Emanuel, is a pediatrician and was a member of the Irgun, a militant Zionist group active during the British Mandate of Palestine. His mother, Martha Smulevitz, worked as an X-ray technician and was the daughter of a local union organizer. She became a civil rights activist; she was also once the owner of a Chicago-area rock and roll club. The two met in Chicago in the 1950s. Emanuel's older brother, Ezekiel, is a noted oncologist and bioethicist, and his brother, Ari, is a talent agent in Los Angeles and inspired Jeremy Piven's character Ari Gold on the HBO series Entourage. Emanuel himself is also the inspiration for the character Josh Lyman on The West Wing. He also has a younger sister named Shoshanna, 14 years his junior.
When his family lived in Chicago, he attended Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, a Jewish day school. After his family moved to Wilmette, he attended public school: Romona School, Wilmette Junior High School, and New Trier High School. Emanuel was encouraged by his mother to take ballet lessons as a boy and is a graduate of the Evanston School of Ballet. He won a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet but turned it down to attend Sarah Lawrence College, a liberal arts school with a strong dance program.He graduated from college in 1981, and went on to receive a master's degree in Speech and Communication from Northwestern University in 1985. While still a student at Sarah Lawrence, he joined the congressional campaign of David Robinson of Chicago."