Pride and Prejudice in Jerusalem: Chapter 3
By Elle Kaye
Over the next few days Mr. Ben-Ami could not walk through his apartment without being accosted by his wife and daughters with entreaties to describe, again, in detail, every aspect of the new tenant! A Facebook stalking session and google search yielded frustratingly sparse results. Hodaya was the only one who seemed at all moved by what they had discovered. Dr. Levy had volunteered in Uganda for some time in a rural hospital with rudimentary resources. His blogs of this period were emotive and full of superfluous, hyperbole. Shevi scoffed at the blog’s sentimentality, Lia and Kiki laughed but Hodaya surprised them all by sternly telling them to shut their gobs, which only made the young ones laugh harder. He’d been awarded Young Paediatrician of the Year some time ago and his profile picture was the biggest disappointment of all since he was entirely in scrubs, including a mask. All that could be seen of Dr. Levy were his blue eyes.
Mr. Ben-Ami successfully managed to elude his wife and daughters, which meant that they were at last obliged to accept the second-hand descriptions of their neighbour, Layla Lewis. Her report was highly favourable. Her dad, the judge, Sir Liam Lewis, had been delighted with him. He was quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable, and, to top it off, he was coming to the Succah party with his flatmate and a few others. Nothing could be more delightful than fresh meat! Very lively hopes of snaring Dr. Levy were entertained by all the Jewish mothers in the building, not to mention a number of the daughters.
Hodaya Ben-Ami was embarrassed to catch herself daydreaming and imagining the young doctor. She had been strangely moved by his account of medicine in Uganda and wanted to find out more. She self-consciously shared her feelings with her sister Shevi, the two sisters being close confidants. Shevi stopped teasing Dr. Levy at once and, instead, began to entertain hopes for her sister, who was the epitome of goodness and beauty in her mind. Hodaya had dated men in the past, but few were able to accept her ambition to succeed in medicine before settling down. Perhaps Dr. Levy would be different.
“If I can see one of my daughters happily married and living in this building,” said Mrs. Ben-Ami to her husband, “and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for.”
Not long thereafter, Mr. Ben-Ami ran into Dr. Levy in the foyer of the building and invited the gentleman, and his flatmate, over for Friday night dinner. Mrs. Ben-Ami had already planned the courses according to what she knew herself able to cook better than the neighbours, when the answer arrived that deferred it all. Dr. Levy was going away for Shabbat and thus unable to accept the honour of their invitation. Tamara Ben-Ami was quite put out. She could not imagine what would take someone so newly arrived in the building away from Jerusalem on Shabbat! She began to fear that he might always be flying from one place to another, and never settled as he ought to be. Layla Lewis reported that he would be back in time for Succot the next week and that he was bringing his flatmate and other friends to the annual party the building held in their large, shared garden. A report soon followed that he was bringing twelve women and seven men with him. The girls grieved over such a large number of women but were comforted the day before by hearing that instead of twelve he had brought six. And when the group came down to the party it consisted of only 5 altogether – Dr. Levy, his two sisters, the husband of the eldest and another young man.
Dr. Levy was good-looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners. His sisters were both attractive and very fashionable women. His brother-in-law, Mr. Hersh, merely looked the gentleman; but his flatmate, Mr. Dahari, soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, and the report which was in general circulation, within five minutes after his entrance, that was on the Forbes 500 list. The women declared he was much handsomer than Dr. Levy and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening; till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company; and above being pleased and not even his impressive business could save him from being judged unworthy in comparison with his friend.
Dr. Levy had soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; he was lively and unreserved, played every novelty game there was, was angry that the party was ending so early and talked of giving one himself. What a contrast between him and his friend! Mr. Dahari played only one board game with Mrs. Hersh, and one with Miss Levy, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the garden, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come to a party again. Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs. Ben-Ami, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment by his having slighted one of her daughters.
Elisheva Ben-Ami had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit out of two games; an during part of that time Mr. Dahari had been standing near enough for her to hear a conversation between him and Dr. Levy, who came from the games for a few minutes, to press his friend to join in.
“Come, Dahari,” said he, “I must have you join in. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better play.”
“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my parenter. At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman whom it would not be a punishment for me to make small-talk with.”
“I would not be so fastitudious as you are,” cried Dr. Levy, “for a kingdom! I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty.”
“You are hanging out with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Dahari, looking at Hodaya.
“Oh she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! And a doctor too! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let Hodaya introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” and turning round he looked for a moment at Elisheva, till catching her eye, he withrdrew his own and coldly said: “she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give attention to girls who are overlooked by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, you’re wasting your time with me.”
Dr. Levy followed his advice. Dahari walked off; and Elisheva remained with no very cordial feelings toward him. She told the story, however, with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.
The evening altogether passed of pleasantly for the whole family. Mrs. Ben-Ami had seen her eldest daughter much admired by Dr. Levy and his friends. Hodaya was as much gratified by this as her mother could be, though in a quieter way. Elisheva felt Hodaya’s pleasure. Miriam had heard herself mentioned to Miss Levy as the most learned girl in the neighbourhood; and Kiki and Lia had been fortunate enough never to be without partners, which was all that they had learnt to care for at a party.
They returned, therefore, in good spirits to their apartment. They found Mr. Ben-Ami still up. With a book he was regardless of time and on present occasion he had a good deal of curiosity as to the events of an evening which had raised such splendid expectations. He had rather hoped that his wife’s views on the new neighbour would be disappointed but he soon found out that he had a different story to hear.
“Oh! My dear” as she entered the room, “we have had a most delightful evening, a most excellent party. I wish you had been there. Hodaya was so admired, nothing could be like it. Everybody said how well she looked and how medicine suited her; and Dr. Levy thought her quite beautiful. He played two of the partner games with her! And she eas the only creature in the room that he asked a second time. First of all, he asked Layala Lewis. I was so vexed to see him with her! But, however, he did not admire her at all; indeed nobody can, you know; and he seemed quite struck with Hodaya. So then he introduced himself and played the next two rounds with her. Then he partnered up with Miss Kowan, and then with Mia Lewis and the next with Hodaya again and then with Shevi and then – “
“If he had any compassion for me,” cried her husband impatiently, “he would not have played half so much! For God’s sake, say no more of his partners. O that he had sprained his ankle in the first place!”
“Oh! My dear, I am quite delighted with him. He is so excessively handsome! And his sisters are charming women. I never in my life saw anything more elegant than their dresses.I dare say the price of Mrs. Hersh’s dress – “
Here she was interrupted again. Mr. Ben-Ami protested against any description of finery. She was therefore obliged to seek another branch of the subject, and related, with much bitterness of spirit and some exaggeration, the shocking rudeness of Mr. Dahari. “But I can assure you,” she added, “that Shevi does not lose much by not suiting his fancy; for he is a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing. So high and so conceited that there was no enduring him! He walked here, and he walked there, fancying himself so very great! Not handsome enough to dance with! I wish you had been there, my dear, to have given him one of your set-downs. I quite detest the man.”