"Maybe," said one of the guests, "maybe we shouldn't leave it to the men - maybe we should be there and they should be here."

The men, as Vivian Dinitz, wife of the Israeli ambassador pointed out to the surprise of no one, were across town "involved in the very important hard stuff, the difficult decisions."

Rosalynn Carter had come with a message and symbolic, perhaps, of the tension that has developed in recent months between the governments of Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin, you could have heard a pin drop.

"I have to say what I feel is uppermost in our minds today - the desire for peace in the Mideast," Mrs. Carter began, gazing out over the tulip centerpieces at the Israeli Embassy yesterday to where 40 guests sat at a luncheon honoring Aliza Begin.

"Events have occurred over the past frew months that have caused us to believe a genuine peace can come that will insure the security of Israel in the Middle East. We pray that dissions today - this week," Mrs. Carter continued, "will be a step forward in progress for a lasting peace that will allow people to live safely and securely."

People stood, raised their glasses and later applauded. But when someone asked Mrs. Begin if she, too, wanted to say a few words, she declined. "Not for political reasons," speculated a tablemate. "She seemed in very good spirits. I just don't think she felt comfortable making a speech in English."

Not that Aliza Begin was the least bit inhibited. In conversations, she was animated and dynamic, if also cautious.

"I can't make any comment," she would say, or, "I told you before I am not making any statements for my husband."

But at the same time she was optimistic on the quest for peace - "I'm a born optimist," she sparred.

Was she satisfied with the attitude toward Israel she found among the American Jewish community?

"Look," she said, "we are together through thick or thin. Jewish people are our only allies - well, not our only - but together they can influence public opinion."

And had she and her husband feared that there might be an erosion of support?

"I never believed in my life there would be any such thing. We rely on them, they rely on us."

Guests included administration and congressional wives and also women leaders representing some of the major Jewish organizations in the country.