Twenty-nine years have passed since Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and I last exchanged glances in that Manhattan hotel room at the Regency. Now that he’s commencing a third term as Israel’s prime minister — a record matched only by founding father David Ben-Gurion — I can’t help but reminisce.
Twenty-nine years, and not one phone call from the man. Not one flower. Not one letter. Sure, a VIP like Bibi can’t be expected to remember the comings and goings of every temporary secretary over the past three decades. Still, I thought we’d shared a moment. Then again, I thought I’d marry a Rothschild and own a small country. Go figure.
In 1984, I was the ever-auditioning musical comedy star-to-be, a cabaret singer/bartender by night, temp secretary by day. Like most women who’d grown up on Rodgers & Hammerstein and Disney, I dreamed of a Broadway career and a Jewish husband. When I got word that I had a two-day temp assignment for the newly appointed Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, I thought it might be a sign from my yidishe forebears. Could it be? A Jewish bachelor of note in Manhattan politics, just for me? (Or so I conjectured. Netanyahu divorced his second wife, Fleur Cates, in the mid-1980s.)
Outfitted in an ensemble suitable for the role of secretary, I reported to a drab office at 42nd Street and Second Avenue and introduced myself to a tall, broad-shouldered man, his brown hair prematurely threaded with silver. “I’m Benjamin Netanyahu,” he said, the clouds of self-importance swirling around him. “Here’s your desk.” The man barely looked at me. So much for my flights of fancy.
At the end of that first uneventful day, Netanyahu had instructions. I can still recall his fluid diction mingled with a touch of throaty Hebrew. “Tomorrow, meet me in front of the Regency Hotel. 8:30 a.m.”
The Regency? Was there something going on between us after all? Then, forgetting the fantasy, it hit me: My other secretarial costumes were at the cleaners. While dressing like Mae West was perfectly acceptable after the sun went down, among the 9-to-5 mover/shaker crowd, feather boas didn’t work. Ever.
The next morning, the Regency was swarming with Diplomatic Secret Service agents. This was years before the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, and I was oblivious to the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres was concluding a six-day visit to the United States.