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Rahm Emanuel was born in Chicago, Illinois. His first name, Rahm, means "high" or "lofty" in Hebrew, while his last name, Emanuel, means "God is with us." According to Emanuel's father, his son is the namesake of Rahamim, a Lehi group combatant who was killed. Rahm’s surname was adopted by his family in 1933, after Rahm’s paternal uncle, Emanuel Auerbach, was killed in a skirmish with Arabs in Jerusalem.
Emanuel's father, Benjamin M. Emanuel, is a pediatrician who was born in Jerusalem and was a member of the Irgun, a militant Zionist group which operated from 1931 to 1948
Emanuel directed the details of the ceremony, down to the choreography of the famous handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
Emanuel has said of his Judaism: "I am proud of my heritage and treasure the values it has taught me."[