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As a founder of the “New Left” in the ’60s, David Horowitz unintentionally added to the rich hues of his personality by making an about-face in worldview. Politically, Horowitz today is one of the icons of the conservative movement. His FrontPage Magazine website is a watchdog of both the trendy and vicious left. Horowitz frequently speaks on college campuses and is quite emphatic about the threats to civilization that seem to spring up these days like psychedelic mushrooms.
But it is as a father that Horowitz really shines. In “A Cracking of the Heart,” his new memoir about his daughter, Sarah, Horowitz wonderfully, achingly shares the story of this courageous woman who battled difficult birth conditions to accomplish more than most do with long, gray lifetimes.
In Chapter 1, Horowitz writes that Sarah’s death at 44 left a “wake of vacancy and heartache behind.”
This Horowitz is quite different from the one that writes with acerbic wit and hot daggers about various socialists, huggers of dictators and diabolical change agents that stalk our land. Sarah’s father is a man of great humanity, and this extraordinary book can be a catalyst for anyone enduring the ghastly effects of a loved one’s death.
The reader can imagine the author sighing often while setting this remembrance to paper. There is a wonderful connection to the human need to at least ponder the afterlife; Horowitz relates that neither he nor Sarah believe in a resurrection of the dead, but she told him once, “I say the prayer, ‘Blessed are you, God; you resurrect the dead,’ every morning over my coffee.”
It is this kind of contradiction, so shared by all people, that make the book accessible to people of all faiths, or no faith.
Beset by a host of physical limitations (poor eyesight, poor hearing, arthritic hip, kinked aorta), Sarah was nonetheless a gifted writer and splendid advocate for the downtrodden. At her funeral, her father eulogized her, and among the wonderful recollections, the reader begins to choke when the author relates a list of obstacles … “the single life which she did not want.”
Yet far more than anything else, Sarah’s story is a crackling display of a life that, frankly, was far better lived than most. When most of us complain of minor inconveniences with embarrassing alarm, she achieved a fierce independence: working long hours, riding buses for post-graduate work, writing.
Father and daughter differed in their political views, but Sarah’s intense drive to bring good to the world tempered David’s displeasure with some of her choices of candidate. In fact, the story of Sarah’s refusal to accept Social Security benefits indicates that, along with her fierce independence, she might have at least shared with her father the belief that social programs aren’t always the answer. The legion of deadbeats in America could learn some things from Sarah Horowitz.
Our national obsession with Hollywood also makes us think that life somehow imitates a script. Not so with Sarah. The description in “A Cracking of the Heart” of her struggles with health and her desire (but inability) to have children is a signal that this life is very messy.
I am reminded in this story of my favorite Jewish hero, Jonathan Netanyahu. The commander of an elite force sent to free hostages at Entebbe, Netanyahu had the same total commitment to the highest values that Sarah had. For a Gentile like me, it is important to recognize and embrace Jewish heroes; frankly, they point the way for the rest of us. Sarah assaulted her Entebbes on a regular basis, and in her inspiring story, the rest of us are the better for it.
In a world of narcissists, it is also refreshing to see the personal thoughts, through journal entries, of a woman who I believe knew her own writing talent, but when one commits something to paper, she recognizes it can be read. The first Sumerian scribes knew that, and for Sarah, who lived alone, the possibility of her writing coming to light didn’t prevent her from setting to paper her private terrors. Again, in the baring of her soul, the rest of us realize we aren’t really alone.