After the funeral of a college classmate, her sister asked me how the Catholic ceremony compared to Jewish rites. I thought a moment. There were the bouquets of flowers piled atop the coffin, buried along with it. That was different, and haunting, but not what I mentioned.
“We tend to say something around the grave,” I said.
“I asked the priest if we could do that,” she responded. “But he said ‘No.'”
And you listened to him?! I thought, and almost said aloud, but held back, out of respect.
We Jews are indeed a chatty, argumentative people, no doubt about that, and we guide our clergy as much as our clergy guide us. Maybe more.
So even though I am convinced that the ideal way to solemnize Rahm Emanuel’s departure from the mayor’s office is with stony silence — for the city to cough into our collective fist and fix our gaze on the middle distance until he goes away — I’m not going to do that.
First, because of the certainty that Rahm will spend the next few weeks in hyperkinetic victory laps, huffing in circles around City Hall, both hands raised for high-fives that aren’t returned by passersby who twist away in revulsion as he flies past, legs and jaw churning, uttering the same constant stream of self-congratulatory spin he’s been coasting along on, like a slug producing its own smooth track of slime, for the past eight years.
And second, well, can’t have a column that’s five paragraphs long. My job has forced me to contemplate Rahm and, like any proctologist with a full day’s schedule, no point in complaining. Might as well roll up our sleeves and take a look.
What’s there to say? Rahm took the baton handed to him by his mentor Richie Daley, made a few vigorous dashes around the track, then tripped over the video of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke pumping 16 bullets into Laquan McDonald — a video that Rahm either ignored or buried, and really, which is worse? — then fell into his own heap and never got up again.
That said, there were accomplishments. When he showed up in 2011, Rahm said he’d like to make the long-neglected riverfront into an asset for the city, and he has. Every mayor must leave some physical manifestation to counterbalance his blunders. Daley had Millennium Park and the Bean to offset his disastrous parking meter deal.
Rahm has the river. He also brought in Divvy Bikes, which are fun, although every other city in the Western hemisphere has them too.
I don’t think the Riverwalk and the bikes, together, erase the moral stain of trying to bury Van Dyke’s crime under a thick layer of money — five million of your dollars. Time will tell. We were lucky, in that a lot of Emanuel’s plans didn’t pan out. Chicago failed to grab the poisoned chalice offered by Amazon, and booted George Lucas’ “Star Wars” museum to that cultural mecca, Los Angeles.
The rabbi finishes the keening words of the Mourner’s Kaddish as the casket, with Rahm’s political corpse inside, is lowered into the ground. He looks at me, raising his eyebrows. I puff out my cheeks, sighing, and begin.
“Rahm always called Chicago ‘that most American of American cities,’ ” I say. “Which was strange: what did that even mean? A weird echo of Hitler, who called Nuremberg ‘that most German of German cities.’ Not an homage, I trust, though with Rahm you never know…”
I pause, catching myself. Start again.
“Rahm Emanuel will be remembered as … the most Chicago of Chicago mayors, with the national political clout of a Richard J. Daley, coupled with the bilateral symmetry of a Harold Washington — two eyes, two arms, two legs, divided along a central axis. He had the warm personal charm of Richard M. Daley, and the intellectual depth of Eugene Sawyer. The common man touch of Michael Bilandic, and the can-do spirit of Jane Byrne. We will miss him — well, not miss him, in the sense of wishing he were still here, but miss him in the sense that we will notice that he is gone.”
We take handfuls of dirt, as is our tradition, and toss them with dull thuds against the coffin lid, almost drowning out the faint sound of scratching and muffled cries from within.