Excerpted from THE BAMBOO CRADLE, the journey of a Jewish father.
Reprinted with permission of Feldheim Publishers. In Israel: POB 35002, Jersualem. In the USA: 200 Airport Executive Park, Spring Valley NY 10977 Feldheim Publishers.
Professor Allan Schwartzbaum always left his house at 5:45 A.M. on Thursdays. One day each week he traveled to Taichung in central Taiwan. It was a long trip, made even longer by the fact that he had to travel first from the small fishing village of Tamsui to Taipei, and from there take a two-and-a-half-hour train ride to the university.
A visiting American professor on a Fulbright Scholarship to the Republic of China, Schwartzbaum held part-time positions in three universities throughout the country, teaching sociology and industrial relations. The quaint hilltop quarters he and his wife, Barbara, occupied in Tamsui had been graciously provided by his Chinese hosts.
Halfway down the mountain path, Schwartzbaum decided he would take the train this morning. He enjoyed sharing the ride with the many schoolchildren who usually rode to the city at that hour. This morning was no exception. Knots of children in twos, threes and fours, schoolbooks strapped on their backs, hopped, pushed, skipped and otherwise made their way into the train compartment. Whenever he watched them, he always discovered a smile on his face.
But the smile quickly faded when he remembered his own situation. He and Barbara had been married for seven years. They led busy, interesting lives traveling, working and studying. But in their quiet moments, when all around them was still, they would feel the palpable silence and vast emptiness that only a child could fill.
Schwartzbaum joined the crowd climbing the stairs from the local platform to the main terminal. He purchased his ticket to Taichung, then headed across the huge hall toward his assigned gate. Suddenly, a bright splash of color caught his eye, a small red parcel on a vacant bench. He thought he saw it move. His curiosity piqued, he decided to investigate.
Tiny dark eyes met his own. His briefcase fell from his hand as he reached for the baby. He picked her up gently and held her close. A note fluttered to the ground.
Finding an abandoned baby in a rural Chinese train station would become a transformational life experience for Allan and Barbara Schwartzbaum. After deciding to adopt the baby girl, they journeyed through a maze of foreign bureaucracy. Then, when they sought to convert their new baby to Judaism, the Schwartzbaum's embarked on a far more meaningful journey of discovering their own commitment to Judaism, it's goals, and the role of the Jew in the modern world.
In the following piece, Allan Schwartzbaum describes one key moment of transition:
The more I considered the question, the more convinced I became that there was no inherent contradiction between the secular and religious worlds. The atomic structure of particles, the complex symbolism of linguistic systems, the intricate rhythms of a Bach fugue, the movement of tides and the earth's crust, the migratory patterns of birds, illustrated the infinity and awesome wisdom of God. Secular studies were a window into heaven and an entranceway to Torah.
What was necessary, I concluded, was first to be rooted in a Torah perspective. The sequence I had followed - first completing my secular studies and then, years later, going to yeshiva - was fraught with danger. How many of my classmates had fallen by the wayside? How many, although materially successful, seemed to be disenchanted, adrift and listless?
I continued to grapple with the issues involved until eventually reached a partial resolution that satisfied my own need to reconcile the secular with the spiritual. I recalled that most universities have a School of Arts and a School of Sciences. This traditional organization of academic subjects into the Arts, which normally embodies humanistic studies such as philosophy, literature, language, music and art, and the Sciences, which includes both the physical and natural sciences, suggests a key distinction.
The Arts or Humanities stresses the relativeness of human conduct and endeavor. Tastes, fashions, ethics, values, all vary with the historical epoch, the prevailing socioeconomic conditions, and ongoing cultural exchanges. Societies, with their critics and spokesmen, serve as the arbiters of what is good, beautiful, just and deserving. There are no eternal standards, only emergent criteria. There is no place for an omnipresent Creator whose transcendent, unvarying wisdom guides man. Great art and literature is seen as a product of individual genius.
This genius, however, has its origins in God's gift to the artist. The Torah says, "I have selected Bezalel son of Uri, son of Chur, of the tribe of Yehudah, by name. I have filled him with a Divine spirit, with wisdom, understanding and knowledge, and with the talent for all types of craftsmanship." (Exodus 31:2,3)
Unless the artist acknowledges this debt, the works fashioned by his hand become idols glorifying what man has created, rather than offerings praising the Creator of man.
Possibly, if one approaches an area of secular study with a firmly-grounded Torah perspective, the risk of falling prey to that arrogance is minimized.