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When the Clintons Moved to Chappaqua: A Personal Memory

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Word is out that the Clintons will soon be movin' on up to a 10-million dollar, 20-acre farm in Bedford Hills, 10 minutes up the Saw Mill Parkway from Chappaqua. This would certainly be a more private compound for when the grandkids (hopefully) arrive.

Their upcoming purchase calls to mind when the Clintons first moved to Chappaqua, right before Hillary was about to run for Senate in 2000. The Dutch-Colonial was on a suburban street, a few minutes from my house.

Here's a personal recollection:

My late husband Chaim Stern was the long-time rabbi at a reform temple in Chappaqua. When the Lewinsky mess was at its worst, Bill Clinton gave two public apologies. The first was brusque. Then, at a prayer breakfast, he offered a more heartfelt apology, quoting from Gates of Repentance, the prayer book my husband created for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services.

The media descended on our house. Networks called The New York Times wrote a profile of Chaim. President Clinton sent us a copy of his speech and a gracious note. And that, I thought, was that.

A year or so later when the Clintons moved to Chappaqua, we were invited to a small "welcome to the neighborhood" potluck dinner party in their honor. The hostess said that Hillary had asked we be included. My husband and I were surprised by her thoughtfulness and by her savvy in remembering that we lived there.

We arrived with a bowl of hot artichoke dip on a cold January night, right before Bill Clinton's next-to-the-last State of the Union address. We were warned this was to be a relaxing, neighborly event, and to dress down and act casual. No reporters would be there, no beltway bloviators. Most of the few guests were skeptical Republican neighbors

The Clintons arrived with a small meat casserole and some big Secret Service guys. Chelsea, too. The first daughter had blossomed into an attractive young woman. She confided to a few of us that for the first time she would have her own room, in her own house.

Bill, nicely filling a sky-blue sweater, worked the room, dispensing charm and soaking up basic info: "Where's the best deli? Where should I walk Buddy?" (Poor Buddy was soon to be killed by a car on the road we suggested.) The chat remained local, and we all went along with it as naturally as possible, considering we were chatting about septic tanks with the most powerful man in the world.

And then there was Hillary. Would she be the cold witch portrayed in the media or the warm woman people who had met her raved about? Turned out she laughed that big laugh, and seemed to listen when you talked, and even the skeptics found her appealing.

Nobody wanted to be uncool and ask for a photo-op, but when one neighbor slyly brought out a camera and asked for a photo, the rest of our cameras came out, like mushrooms after a rainstorm. (This was way before iPhones, when it would have been much easier to sneak a photo.)

Chaim had brought a disposable, and I posed with the president, with his arm around me. And we smiled and stood there... and stood there, for what seemed like a full minute, and for some reason Chaim couldn't get the camera to work and frankly I didn't think it was that weird to have Bill Clinton close to me. He was known for just that!

Finally the President of the United States of America took his hand from my shoulder and said, "Rabbi, can I help you with that?" And he walked over to Chaim and moved the lever on the camera, walked back and put his arm right back where it had been.

Our connection wasn't entirely over. A bit later, Hillary invited us to attend her announcement to run for the Senate, but we were traveling. I did meet her again at a political event, and had a photo taken with her. No arm around me, but she remembered me, by name.

The next September, since they lived a few blocks away from the temple, Chaim invited the Clintons to the High Holy Days services, and though they couldn't come, Hillary wrote a personal note. The next year, when Bill was retired to country squire and Hill was a Senator, both Clintons did show up, he in a skullcap, surprising the late-service congregants and staying to schmooze.

The Clinton effect lingered just a bit more. Due to the connection with Bill's apology, when my husband died, "Monica Lewinsky" appeared in the first paragraph of his Times obituary. By the time I sold our house a couple of years later, I was relieved not to incur the wrath of strangers by uttering "Chappaqua."

And now, the Clintons are moving too. And Chappaqua will fade as a world destination and once again be confused with Chappaquiddick. And so it goes.