Other Lives

By Ira Seidenstein

February 27, 2024

In theory I’m researching towards my third book. I am researching but generally speaking I’m not writing. I don’t have a deadline. That’s allowed for a great meandering experience. The research at this stage is simply enriching and enjoyable.

The process follows my instincts and coincidental encounters. Some of those have evolved to periods of specific encounters. Except that my way is an intuitive meandering which means that specific encounters soon are juxtaposed to other enticing threads.

This blog is about such a juxtaposition. For several months I took a pause in my swimming laps training. Before the pause I had been diligent. But I also decided to soften my diligence and swim 25% less laps and to hopefully have more concentration for study and research and reading generally. That worked well. Then during the actual pause for 3 months of not swimming laps, I increased my home gym training’s intensity. Always my home gym training concludes with a few minutes swim in our household’s backyard pool. During the pause I decided to increase the intensity of my swim technique. That was just a few minutes. Then I would just stand in the pool and enjoy the surrounding nature of trees and birds and the sky and clouds.

However I found a new delight to stand at the pool’s edge and look at the tiny insects including the smallest of ants I had ever seen.


Just less than an hour ago I was reading one of the books I’m currently processing. I was on page 222 of a book by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Herman Wouk. I’m reading a book of his that is autobiographical. I had just finished reading the following:

“My grandfather took his books with him from Soviet Russia to the United States, and from the United States to Israel, where he is buried. To say they were his pride is to understate the case. They were his life. He was well known for his legal mastery. He served on rabbinic courts often,”.

At that comma, after “often,” i.e. right after ‘often’ – I saw THE tiniest living creature that I have ever seen with the naked eye. It was an ant. Much smaller than the smallest of the ones I had seen at the pool’s side.

This ant was why I stopped reading.

The ant was smaller than that comma.

I was awestruck by the tiniest living thing that I have ever seen in my life.

I was deep in the reading about Wouk’s depth of learning the Talmud from his Grandfather a Rabbi born in pre-Soviet Russia/Belarus.

“When Wouk was 13, his maternal grandfather, Mendel Leib Levine, came from Minsk to live with them and took charge of his grandson’s Jewish education. Wouk was frustrated by the amount of time he was expected to study the Talmud, but his father told him, “if I were on my deathbed, and I had breath to say one more thing to you, I would say ‘Study the Talmud.'” Eventually Wouk took this advice to heart. After a brief period as a young adult during which he lived a secular life, he returned to religious practice.[4] Judaism would become integral to both his personal life and his career. He would later say that his grandfather and the United States Navy were the two most important influences on his life.” (that extract is from wikip. online)

Wouk’s Pulitzer Prize was for his semi-autobiographical novel The Caine Mutiny. “The novel was later adapted into a 1954 movie of the same name, as well as a similarly named play in 1953, an American TV film in 1955 and an Australian TV film in 1959 both based on the play, and a similarly named 2023 film reboot”. (wikip.)

The USS Zane one of the two ships that Wouk served on.

“Wouk joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1942 and served in the Pacific Theater during World War II, an experience he later characterized as educational: “I learned about machinery, I learned how men behaved under pressure, and I learned about Americans.” Wouk served as an officer aboard two destroyer minesweepers (DMS), the USS Zane and USS Southard, becoming executive officer of the latter while holding the rank of lieutenant… and won a number of battle stars… During off-duty hours aboard ship he started writing a novel, Aurora Dawn, which he originally titled Aurora Dawn; or, The True history of Andrew Reale, containing a faithful account of the Great Riot, together with the complete texts of Michael Wilde’s oration and Father Stanfield’s sermon. Wouk sent a copy of the opening chapters to philosophy professor Irwin Edman, under whom he studied at Columbia, who quoted a few pages verbatim to a New York editor. The result was a publisher’s contract sent to Wouk’s ship, then off the coast of Okinawa. Aurora Dawn was published in 1947 and became a Book of the Month Club main selection. Wouk finished his tour of duty in 1946.” (wikip.)

For me, the experience of my research is as real as is Life itself. It’s rare that I can accurately share what is happening for me internally which appears at the same moment to be external. Yet, in my Life experience I have noted 1000s or countless times that which may not be only external.

In terms of my research toward my illusory 3rd book I am studying or trying to find the essential aspect or aspects of my own Culture. Notably, one central aspect of the Culture is to consciously note what is occurring via ones 5 senses. Additionally there is the noting for example that the object that appears visibly may also be much more than its obvious properties. In a sense, it may possibly be that the Culture is noting in a pre-microscopic way what the Mind’s Eye can recognize via contemplation in an instance of taking note of one’s surroundings including the people and nature right where one is standing. It is a discipline of noting the very obvious reality is juxtaposed with the surreal or subconscious reality.

Just a short while ago I saw the tiniest living creature that I had ever seen with my naked eye.

The experience was awe.

However, yesterday I was just as awestruck by a human. I will describe that encounter in a moment. First I will say that I tried to photograph the species now known as a: Smaller-Than-a-Comma Ant. I was too slow even tiny ants move very fast. I knew I was close to the end of the chapter “The Law”. The next page 223 reminded me of my encounter with a particular person.

That person, a young man, was visiting our community for a few days to help with the Rabbinic duties since our Rabbi was overseas for a family occasion. The young man and I had met on Thursday, one of the two days I regularly attend shule (synagogue). Monday being the other regular day. We have a dispersed community so getting the classic required Minyan is a challenge and by attending I can ‘contribute’ in a small way by being one of the ‘ten’ required to compose a Minyan.

The young leader and I had a chance to chat Thursday and yesterday (Monday). He’s studying for an Engineering degree. He has done most of the arduous study and testing towards his Rabbinic confirmation called semikha. The final tests are less demanding so he is pushing ahead with a focus on completing the Engineering degree on schedule.

As his Engineering study is at Monash University…. and as I might guess with most students through Monash in recent years (or most recent decades??) he didn’t know much about Sir John Monash. So I quickly filled in with a few of my favorite Monash bits of info. Of course starting with the simple fact that Monash was a Civil Engineer which led to him working for the Military and then as the saying goes … the rest is History. In Monash’s case that is an understatement as he was a maker of history.

Then today after missing the photo op with the world famous Smaller-Than-a-Comma Ant; I wanted to finish the chapter and lo and behind Wouk provides a very brief summary of semikha! Here I’ll end this blog with most of the remainder of the chapter The Law and Wouk’s comments about semikha in relation to The Law. The text is provided in the following few photos.

Thanks for reading. Regards, Ira Seidenstein – www.iraseid.com / iraseid@gmail.com

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Ira Seidenstein