A Cracking of the Heart: A Journey to Transcendence

For those of us who didn't have the honor and pleasure of knowing Sarah Horowitz, her father has collected her work, insights into her spiritual journey, and his thoughts on his late daughter’s life into a new book. David Horowitz's A Cracking of the Heart refers both to the pain of the death of a loved one and to the opening of the heart to transcendence.

One of the greatest blessings of A Cracking of the Heart is that it also is a dialogue between two insightful souls: an ex-leftist, conservative father and an idealistic, progressive daughter, each wrestling with the questions of how to be good and how to do good from the point of view of their respective philosophies. Both recognized that neither side could hold a monopoly on goodness because, as the author quotes Solzhenitsyn, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through the human heart, and through all human hearts.”

Sarah was born with Turner Syndrome, a genetic condition in which a female is born with one X chromosome instead of two. It is usually associated with short stature and multiple disabilities, including progressive deafness. In addition, Sarah developed arthritis in one hip as an adult, limiting her mobility.

Nevertheless, as someone possessed of great intelligence, great strength of character, towering determination, and unbounded compassion, Sarah lived her life, as Horowitz quotes Yeats, as someone who “was blessed, and could bless.”

Horowitz relates that at the age of 18, Sarah moved out of her mother’s home -- her parents divorced when she was a teen -- to rent an apartment with friends in a neighborhood that frightened her parents (she didn’t move to a neighborhood her father thought was safe until her early 30s) and to attend San Francisco State University. Her adventures in bohemian San Francisco are a delight to read.

When Sarah was in her late 20s, she became her autistic niece’s caregiver using the Lovaas method, and Horowitz includes a description Sarah wrote of her experiences of working with the child.

Sarah also was active in the Turner Syndrome Society, wrote an influential article on intersexuality (aka hermaphroditism), demonstrated against the death penalty, traveled to Israel and climbed Masada twice, and traveled to El Salvador and Mumbai to work with the poor on behalf of the American Jewish World Service. She also lived for two months in Uganda with the Abayudaya, Africans who converted to Judaism during World War I.

For me, the soul of the book is expressed in (1) Sarah’s work to love herself just the way she was, as she was able to love all the rest of the world -- a struggle that her rabbi, Alan Lew, called learning one’s “divine name”; (2) in the definition of suffering -- again, Rabbi Lew, using a Buddhist concept: “all suffering is caused by tana, the selfish desire for something other than what is ...”; and (3) in her dialogue with her father about tikkun olam, the Kabbalistic idea of a “repair of the world.”

If I understand Horowitz’s life’s work correctly since leaving the left, the liberal's greatest fault is that its true believers direct their efforts toward changing the world when their real problem is the emptiness in their souls. What puts Horowitz at odds with his daughter is that she embraced the idea that we are all one, while he had come to reject it. As he quotes from his book The End of Time, which he sent Sarah in manuscript form for her opinion:

I feel no kinship with those who can cut short a human life without remorse; or with terrorists who target the innocent; or with adults who torment small children for the sexual thrill. I suspect no decent soul does either.

In one of the most poignant parts of A Cracking of the Heart, Horowitz writes that he only found Sarah’s comments on The End of Time after her death, which was after the book was published. Sarah’s comments were rooted in her spiritual life, which began to flourish in her 30s.

At 33, Sarah joined the Congregation Beth Shalom, which was then under the direction of the late Rabbi Alan Lew. He had studied to be a Buddhist monk before becoming a rabbi. He also started a Zen meditation group, which he called Makor Or (“Source of Light"). She was a charter member at age 36. So in Sarah’s comment on The End of Time, “practice” refers to her Buddhist meditation and the Buddhist and Jewish principles Sarah applied in her daily life to grow spiritually:

Back to the practice: If you see someone in the fullness of their humanity, you see how they are acting out their own confusion and suffering. This does not justify hurtful or evil acts. It doesn’t even always inspire forgiveness. But if you see someone this way, you respond more in sadness than in anger. And that is simply a more excellent state of being. Even if you’ve never had this experience (and more’s the pity), respect the experience of those who have. I’m not talking about an idea either. This practice has in fact transformed all my relationships, including ours by the way.

Regarding Sarah’s relationship with her disabilities, Horowitz writes:

During the "shloshim" service which follows a funeral by thirty days, Elissa [his ex-wife, Sarah’s mother] was struck by how many people in attendance mentioned Sarah’s disabilities and praised the way she overcame them. Sitting among these mourners, Elissa thought how Sarah would have been mortified, if she were alive, to hear herself talked about as "disabled." The thing Sarah hated most about herself, she thought, was her disabilities. At that moment, she remembered what Rabbi Lew had written in his autobiography about "divine names." … [Rabbi Lew]: ‘This is perhaps the most profound psychological transformation it is possible to undergo: the realization that the very thing we can’t stand about ourselves is our divine name, our uniqueness, the way God has made us, the quality that gives our life its shape and meaning.”

Later, going through Sarah’s journals about her meditation practice, Horowitz discovered his daughter had learned her divine name -- Disabled (although he doesn’t explicitly use the word) -- and come to terms with it:

Norman prescribed a Buddhist practice … to have a “big mind” in her day-to-day life, to observe her anger and frustration. And to let it go. … Fischer’s counsel about the practice struck yet another chord [as Sarah writes in her journal]: “No one has ever said that to me. Not just that spiritual practice in general is a good idea, but that it’s a good idea for me. Not only do I feel in meditation that I am exactly who I am supposed to be, exactly where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I am supposed to do, but my fellow meditators see me this way too. This is truly chein [beauty], gratuitous grace.”

Sarah died suddenly on March 6, 2008, of causes that an autopsy could not determine, although Horowitz notes that Turner Syndrome can be a life-shortening condition. Ironically, the day before she died, Sarah gave an interview in which she talked about the sudden death of her favorite aunt and the advice Rabbi Lew had given her: “Pay attention to the ways in which your relationship continues.”

For Horowitz, his relationship with Sarah continues in his opening to transcendence and finding his way to see the unity of all humanity as his daughter did. It will be well worth your while to read his book and join him on this journey.