The Israeli ambassador had a question for the vice president:

"When we have a problem, Mr. Vice President, whether it's political, military, strategic or economic, we come to the United States. Where do you go when you have a problem?"

George Bush didn't have a ready answer, so like everybody else last night at Ambassador Meir Rosenne's dinner in his honor, he just laughed. Later, in his response to Rosenne's toast, he said, "You have a neat way of making people feel at home."

Bush and his wife, Barbara, were making a rare appearance on Embassy Row, and for Rosenne and his wife, Vera, getting them there was something of a coup.

"It's not because we're big shots," Bush told the black-tie crowd of three dozen Jewish community and business leaders from around the country. "It's very rare that Bar and I go to an embassy at all."

The vice president's popularity at the party seemed a reflection of the results of a poll released yesterday by the Free Congress Foundation's Institute for Government and Politics.

Of 1,000 1984 Reagan voters polled, more than 80 percent favored Bush over conservative Congressman Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.).

"I'm aware of it, but I don't know what it means," Bush told table mates, including Kenneth J. Bialkin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. "My view is to do the job and not worry about it. These things come and go and there are ups and downs -- you do the best you can."

Bush's chief of staff, Craig Fuller, said he wasn't sure what the poll meant, either. "But we're delighted that the vice president is doing well. I've always thought that he's earned the respect and support of the conservatives, but I'm not sure how much you can read into it. In any of the polls taken, he is simply better known, so it's hard to know what the polls really mean."

Barbara Bush wasn't the least bit surprised at her husband's showing. "Why shouldn't it show him that way -- he's the best."

Would she like to be first lady?

"Well," she replied somewhat cagily, "I'm not planning to step aside for a new first lady, but I think these eight Reagan years will have been marvelous, and I would really like to spend time in Texas with my friends."

The Bushes were just back from a summer holiday at their home in Kennebunkport, Maine, where the vice president engaged in vigorous combat with Secret Service net stars on the family tennis court.

Barbara Bush, the straightforward sports reporter, said that the U.S. government's Number 2 leader was a stalwart -- on the Bush family's second-string squad.

Rosenne, welcoming Bush on the eve of Rosh Hashana, rated Israeli-American relations as "never better."

Looking ahead, the Israeli ambassador said, "We hope fervently to be able to start negotiations with Jordan, but we want to be sure these are direct negotiations and that everything is done to avoid a situation in which the terrorist organization gets involved."

Bush agreed, adding that U.S.-Israeli relations are "so secure." He said that even when the "trauma of the moment" sends Rosenne in "to berate me, you do it very politely, and I get the message."

Among the guests last night were Israeli Finance Minister Yitzhak Moda'i, author Herman Wouk, Tom Dine of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Richard Fox of the National Jewish Coalition.