Sara Ehrman, a Capitol Hill legislative staffer, lobbyist for Israeli causes, activist for Middle East peace, Democratic Party political operative, and a friend, mentor and D.C. hostess to Hillary Clinton more than 40 years ago, died June 3 at her home in Washington. She was 98.
The cause was endocarditis, an infection of a heart valve, said journalist Jodi Enda, a family friend.
Mrs. Ehrman, whom the publication Washington Jewish Week once called the “doyenne of Jewish Democrats,” held a variety of jobs at the nexus of politics and Jewish affairs.
Among other things, she was political director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, founder and director of a Texas- Israel exchange program, director of Jewish outreach for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992, deputy political director of the Democratic National Committee and senior policy adviser to the Washington-based S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, a position she held until shortly before her death.
She traveled extensively in the Middle East and had access to top Israeli leaders and Yasser Arafat, the former president of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who once gave her a box inlaid with mother of pearl.
But the most widely chronicled aspect of her life was her relationship with the Clintons, particularly Hillary Clinton in the years before she was a first lady, senator, secretary of state and presidential candidate.
Mrs. Ehrman had put aside a youthful flirtation with Zionist causes to focus on marriage and raising children. She was living in the Washington area when, in 1965, she became a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill.
By 1972 she was working in Texas for Sen. George S. McGovern (D-S.D.) as deputy director of issues and research in McGovern’s campaign against incumbent President Richard M. Nixon. She needed a lawyer, and she called campaign headquarters to ask for one.
A young woman from Yale Law School, Hillary Rodham, arrived in her office.
Years later, Mrs. Ehrman would remember mainly that she wore brown: brown clothes, brown shoes, brown everything. No makeup. They became friends, then went their separate ways after the election. But not for long.
By 1974, Mrs. Ehrman was representing the office of the governor of Puerto Rico in Washington and Rodham was working in a much sought-after job with the Housecommittee investing the Watergate break-in that ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation.
Rodham was living in Ehrman’s spacious townhouse in Washington. After Nixon resigned that August, Rodham made a historic and life-changing decision: She said she wanted to move to Fayetteville, Ark., to be with her law school classmate and boyfriend, Bill Clinton, who was then teaching at the University of Arkansas.
“I advised her that she was crazy to go to that Mickey Mouse state to marry a country professor,” Mrs. Ehrman later told Newsweek.
Mrs. Ehrman drove Rodham to Arkansas. They arrived on a football weekend when hundreds of fraternity men were wearing pig hats in support of the Razorbacks.
“And that is when I started to cry,” Mrs. Ehrman told The Washington Post. “She was so gifted and promising. I thought her life should be on a bigger stage. . . . I thought she was throwing that opportunity away.”
Every few miles along that long trip to Arkansas, she had asked Rodham whether she knew what she was doing, and every few miles she had gotten the same answer: “No, but I’m going anyway.”
More than 30 years later, Mrs. Ehrman recalled thinking to herself, “She’s going to the end of the world. You can’t even get brie.”
Sara Teitelbaum was born on Staten Island on April 24, 1919. As a young woman, she participated with young Zionist groups in Labor Day parades, an activity that drew the ire of her father.
He called her a Communist, according to a story in the American Jewish Peace Archive.
“I’m not a Communist,” she replied. “I’m a Zionist.”
He answered, “Same goddamned thing. Cut it out and do your homework.”
She was 9 when her mother died, and she went to live with an aunt, who already had 11 children. In 1940, she married Libert Ehrman, who became an international economist. They settled in Alexandria, Va., after World War II. The marriage ended in divorce. They had two sons, David Ehrman, of Boulder, Colo., and Daniel Ehrman of Afton, Va.
Mrs. Ehrman remained on good terms with the Clintons, who hosted a 90th birthday celebration in her honor at their Washington home. Bill Clinton asked her, as had others over the years, how he had done as a husband, given Mrs. Ehrman’s end-of-the-world-as-she-knew-it prediction for Hillary Rodham’s 1974 move to Arkansas.
“You did okay,” Mrs. Ehrman said.
Read more Washington Post obituaries