Pride and Prejudice in Jerusalem: Chapter 1
By Elle Kaye
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single Jewish doctor, newly moved to Jerusalem, must be in want of a wife.
The man himself may not know that he is looking for a wife, he may even feel that he’s focusing on his career before settling down. But this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
“My dear Mr. Ben-Ami” said his wife jokingly to the wry smile of his daughters around the breakfast table, one Shabbat morning, “have you heard that the apartment downstairs has been let at last?”
Mr. Ben-Ami replied that he had not.
“But it is!” she continued. “The downstairs Cohens saw them moving in and came to tell me about it!”
Mr. Ben-Am continued to read his newspaper without responding.
“Don’t you want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently.
“You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”
This was invitation enough.
“Rina Cohen said that a new oleh from London has taken it – a doctor! A single doctor! He came down on Monday in his hybrid something or other to see the place and was so delighted with it, that he agreed to take it immediately. Apparently, he’s going to move in before next Shabbat and he’s bringing another young man from London to be his flatmate.”
“What’s his name?”
“And he’s single?”
“Yes!! Single. And a doctor. A paediatrician no less! What an amazing thing for our girls!”
“Oh, come on,” replied his wife, “how can you be so obtuse! You must know I am thinking of his marrying one of them.”
“Do you think that’s why he moved here? Did he know that we have five eligible daughters?” Said Gideon Ben-Ami mockingly.
“Oh, stop teasing! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, so you must go visit them as soon as they come and welcome them to the building!”
“I don’t see any need for that. You and the girls may go, or you may send them by themselves, which perhaps is a better idea since they all got their beauty from you and Dr. Levy may fall in love with you.” The girls around the table giggled at this, while Tamara Ben-Ami gave her husband a bemused smile.
“Thank you for the compliment,” she replied, “I certainly have had my share of beauty, but I do not pretend to be anything extraordinary now. When a woman has five grown-up daughters, she ought to stop thinking of her own beauty.”
“Most women don’t look as ravishing as you after raising five grown-up daughters.”
“Stop changing the topic,” she said with an exasperated sigh, “think of your daughters! Think of one of them marrying a doctor – “
At this point, the elder daughter, Hodaya Ben-Ami, interjected, “one of them is a doctor”. The mother waved off this interjection impatiently.
“You can count on the Cohens from upstairs and from downstairs to visit him,” she continued. “You have to go, Gideon. It would look so much better if you went first, before they meet the girls!”
“Oh come on, you’re being overly conservative. I’m sure Dr. Levy will be very glad to see you. I’m happy to leave him a note to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever he chooses of the girls; though I must throw in a good word for my little Shevi.” He winked at Elisheva, Shevi as she was called by the family, who rolled her twinkling eyes at him lovingly.
“Don’t you dare! I’m the first to admit that my Shevi is special. But he could all end up marrying any one of them. Hodaya is beautiful. Keren and Lia are lively and good humoured. And Miriam is learned – he might like that.”
The girls all started pulling faces at each other in the most un-ladylike poses. Well, Miriam didn’t. She looked up from her book, rolled her eyes and got back to it. Lia snorted with laughter. Gideon Ben-Ami, on turning to look at his girls, noticed that Shevi was making a monkey face and noises to go with it. So, her turned to his wife and said:
“Well, they are all silly like other girls. But Shevi has more of a monkey-ish quickness than her sisters.”
This resulted in renewed snorting and laughter. Miriam hid herself in her book even more.
“Oh, Gideon. Stop it. You have no compassion for my anxiety. The downstairs Cohens and the upstairs Cohens have married 3 girls between them. I haven’t married any yet!”
At this – the laughter died immediately. The older girls particularly didn’t look happy at this statement. Elisheva looked at her mother and said:
“You havebeen to the graduation ceremonies of a doctor and a lawyer though. Neither Cohen families have had those.”
“You see,” continued Gideon, “we have our own doctor. And a lawyer at that. Do not mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your anxiety. It is my old friend. I have heard you mention your fear for the girls at least twenty years!”
“Ah, you do not know what I suffer.”
“But I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young doctors move into the building. I myself am looking forward to more graduation ceremonies.” The last was said with a wink at the two older girls.
“It will be no use to us, if twenty doctors should come to the building, since you will not visit them.”
“Depend up on it, my dear, that when there are twenty, I will visit them all.”
Gideon Ben-Ami was an odd mixture of sarcastic humour, reserve and caprice that even after 33 years of marriage, his wife did not fully understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to understand. She was a woman of little education and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself anxious. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was gossip and one-upping her neighbours!