Two years out of college, I was on my third office job, in the fundraising department at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
I was the only religious girl there, the one with the long sleeves and calf-length skirts, the one who mumbled blessings under her breath, the girl who didn’t flirt with anyone. Not that anyone tried to flirt with me. The Israelis had written me off as Other — that religious American who’d moved to Israel a few years ago. Anyway, the secretaries had little status in the hospital hierarchy. People’s eyes glazed over me.
I tried to console myself with images of Russian virtuoso violinists who now swept the streets of Tel Aviv and physicists who worked in toy stores or fumigated cockroaches in the Holy Land. Such was the price of aliyah.
It helped when I’d study Torah during my lunch break. Somehow the parsha and Rashi’s commentary made me better withstand the outbursts of my Czech boss — at least for the moment.
She was auburn-haired, striking and ageless in a Katherine Hepburn way. She couldn’t stand the ironic, casual way I’d serve coffee to the rich old lady donors she hosted in her office. Once she exclaimed, “You’re impudent!”
I felt hurt, angry. I thought my excellent typing should have carried me, but I had to act obsequious, too? I tried to shrink myself further.
One monotony breaker in this soul-killing job was the donor tour. Every few days my boss let me take rich foreigners around the hospital to view the famous Chagall windows. Along the way, I’d throw in a little Hadassah history, just to feel like a big shot.
One day, the famous actor and singer Steve Lawrence was coming to the hospital. Hadassah was abuzz. I was thrilled. My parents loved his music. Steve Lawrence was a big deal, and I assumed, in my naïveté, that I was going to be showing him around. My Czech boss practically laughed in my face. That job had been saved for more important officials.
Instead, she matched me up with another donor, a short, bald, cheerful man. Normally, I would’ve been glad to leave the office, but she sent me away just as Steve Lawrence was slated to arrive. Maybe, if I hurried with my own donor, I could catch a glimpse.
To speed things along, I said to the donor, “Guess who’s coming here? Steve Lawrence!”
He said nothing, just grinned secretively.
As I brought my donor back to the office, I suddenly saw Steve Lawrence in the hallway. In seconds, the wide hospital hall filled. Everyone wanted to take a look and maybe even get an autograph. I stared too. We all stood star struck and silent. An aura enveloped Steve Lawrence, though these Israelis had never even heard of the actor. The man looked sun-lit.
Just then, my donor waddled up. “Steve Lawrence, this young lady wants to meet you,” he crowed, again and again.
I blushed to my hairline and the neck of my high-collared shirt. I wanted to flee.
Steve Lawrence turned to me then and smiled the most extraordinary smile. For the first time I understood why these people are called stars. “Are you a nurse?” he asked with such warmth I was physically stunned.
“No.” I groped for something to say. “I moved here after high school,” I blurted.
“Really? With your family?” he asked, bending in closer.
“Actually, on my own, when I was 17.” I was conscious of Steve and I walking side by side, while on each side of the hallway, doors flew open and the staff people peered at the two of us in astonishment.
“How brave of you,” he exclaimed.
I blushed again, this time from pleasure. Maybe it was brave, I thought. Suddenly I was no longer the nobody, but someone worthy of Steve Lawrence’s attention. “So tell me what you do here,” he went on in his velvet voice.
This took place in the mid-’80s, and I still remember how, just before the famous performer’s entourage all disappeared into another wing of Hadassah Hospital, Steve Lawrence gave me a special parting smile. I stared after him. What an amazing man, I thought.
For a whole week, I got respect at Hadassah Hospital. Here I was, a mere secretary — the religious girl who had captivated Steve Lawrence for that 30-second promenade down the hall. People smiled and asked me how my day was going. I loved it. My Czech boss couldn’t stand the attention I was getting, though, and at the end of the week she fired me.
But my brief bout with “visibility” galvanized me. Maybe I could do something I actually liked. Still under Steve’s spell, I applied for a position working with college-age women at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. Eventually I became a Torah teacher, and later, a writer.
Ruchama King Feuerman is a novelist and writer’s coach. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org