Getting Light 2015: Remembering Isaac

In this process of getting light I have been sorting out old boxes and finding things I haven’t seen in many, many years. Recently I found this note, and the memories and feelings it brought forth are indescribable.

Isaac Horowitz note for dinnerIt marks the beginning of a great friendship. I found the note tucked into my screen door when I got home that Friday afternoon. That night I enjoyed a meal cooked together by two lovely people, and we shared a bottle of wine and talked about wonderful, serious, and enchanting things late into the night, and laughed a lot.

In the summer of 1980 I was living in Boulder, Colorado and one day while riding near the University of Colorado campus I pulled my motorcycle over to see if an older fellow beside the road with a flat bicycle tire needed any help. I later learned he was 60. It gives me pause to think that I am 6 years older than that now.

He told me he didn’t have a patch kit with him. I said I’d be happy to give him a ride, so he chained his bike to a nearby traffic sign and I gave him a ride home on my motorcycle to get a patch kit he had there.

When we arrived the first thing we got was a serious talking to from his friend Gloria, who had been waiting for him and was worried when he hadn’t gotten home as expected and then became quite alarmed when she learned that he had been riding around town on a motorcycle driven by a stranger. She dressed us down like a couple of misbehaving children.

She informed me in no uncertain terms – and reminded him in the bargain – that he was a world-renown physicist blessed with a gift to the world and made it very clear that in her opinion the risk we took was unpardonable. I protested that I let him wear my helmet and that I had been very careful while riding with him, but she was having none of it. It was one of the old “Captain America” helmets, and I think he got a real kick out of wearing it.

Gloria wouldn’t let us go back to the bicycle on the motorcycle then, but she had to be somewhere and after she left we laughed about it and went back with the patch kit. We were naughty boys.

Bob's Honda K4 Motorcycle 1980 EnhancedWe all became friends, but whenever he wanted a ride on the motorcycle he had to sneak out to do it. Later Gloria explained to me again that my new friend was the “Einstein of his generation.” She claimed her reaction about the motorcycle ride was purely protective on those grounds alone, but it was easy to see the real reason for her protectiveness was that she was in love with him.

They had met as members of an international folk dancing group at the University and become friends. It became one of those rare, good, honest friendships that had grown into a deep love between the two of them.

Many of the personal conversations he and I had that summer inevitably turned to the problems his love for Gloria had introduced into his life. We talked about many other things as well. He told me what it was like to ride on the Oriental Express, and I loved hearing about that. At the time I’d taken a passing interest in Synectics, a problem-solving methodology for R&D think tanks that was the flavor of the day, and we had some interesting talks about that. There were some great conversations about history and literature and philosophy, too. We became great friends, and so it was natural that our conversations began to often drift into considerations of what he was going to do about his feelings for Gloria and the sense of obligation and duty he felt toward his family in Israel.

He was deeply conflicted and having a lot of difficulty finding his way. His first marriage had become a marriage in name only, his children were grown or nearly so, and while he had not sought love and had decided to accept his circumstances as they were, love had nevertheless found him out in Gloria. Now it confronted him with choices he had never thought he would have to make.

In one of the last conversations we had before I left Boulder he asked me what I thought he should do. I told him I couldn’t answer that question for him. I reminded him of who he was by telling him about what I had learned about him. He was an honest, loving, caring person, full of an uncommon vitality and love of life. I told him that I’d learned enough about him to know that he already had the answer to his question inside of him, and I knew it was the right answer because he was who he was.

When I left Boulder late that summer and went to say goodbye he invited me to visit him in Israel, where he would be in the fall. I was interested in the kibbutz lifestyle at that time, and thought it might be a good idea. He made sure I could remember his address before we parted, and it was indeed unforgettable: “Just go to Rehovot, Israel and tell whoever you meet in the street there that you want to see me at the Weizmann Institute, and they will bring you to me.” Heck of an address. It turned out he WAS the Einstein of his generation – or one of them, anyway.

His name was Isaac Horowitz. I didn’t go to Israel that fall. Sometimes I wish I had.

A couple of years ago I thought about Isaac and wondered if perhaps it wasn’t time to finally take him up on his offer to visit him in Israel. I looked him up on Google and learned he had passed away in 2005. I also found this item among the remembrances of his passing: “He is survived by two children, Matanya and Benyakir, with Mrs. Gloria August…

He found his way.

I count Isaac as one of the few true friends I’ve made in this life. In one memorial of him he was described as “…An essential singularity in the complex domain of control theory.” I certainly agree with the part about Isaac being an essential singularity. He was my friend, and that describes perfectly his place in my own life and memory.

Isaac Horowitz

 Isaac M. Horowitz (1920–2005)
1948–1950 Lieutenant, Chemed Scientific Unit, Israel Defense Forces

 Isaac joined the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1967 and remained a member of the faculty until 1985. Without leaving the University of Colorado, in 1969 Professor Horowitz was attracted to the Cohen Chair of Applied Mathematics at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, where he remained until becoming Emeritus Professor in 1985.

Professor Horowitz taught a number of younger people who actively participated in developing QFT and published their results together with Professor Horowitz and individually. Over one half of his journal papers (52) were published during the period of 1969–1985. The first in this group of students was Dr Marcel Sidi, who sometime around 1970 suggested to move the plant ‘uncertainty’ from the arithmetic complex plane (as in the book of 1963) to the logarithmic complex plane (this is called Nichols chart when the constant L/(1+L) lines are indicated). This may be the rather small but significant step that made Horowitz’s way accessible to mere mortals. One should also mention another influential student of Horowitz, Professor Oded Yaniv, whose publications and teaching of QFT have had a strong impact on many who were not fortunate to have studied directly from Horowitz.

See more at:


Remembrances of Isaac

Daughter Sharon Feinberg
My father was a tremendous reader, lover of poetry and classical literature, and an avid student of Jewish history. He did not waste time and was always immersed in some sort of activity, often reading. He had an unparalleled physical stamina and energy. A perfect illustration is the following story. Four years ago, at the age of 81, he came to Los Angeles with us. Shortly after he arrived, he borrowed a bike, rolled up his pant legs, and rode off for three hours in the hilly terrain. He appreciated nature, had artistic talent, and drew quite well. He was tremendously responsive to injustice and to the plight of  suffering people, in particular, his Jewish brothers and sisters. During World War II, while most of American and Canadian Jews were silent, he wrote and disseminated a paper crying out against the Holocaust. During the 1960s, when the fate of Russian Jews had not yet become of worldwide interest, my father was actively immersed in this cause, spending virtually all of his free time trying to make a difference. He had a great love of music, particularly folk music. As kids, vacations were usually a week at places like Yosemite National Park. My father was a brilliant man, always open to new ideas and new ways of looking at things. In a sense, he was childlike and very naïve, which helps explain his great love for children, who in turn always loved him.


 Wife Gloria August
Isaac and I met 25 years ago at the University of Colorado, Boulder, while I was researching Soviet Jewry. Isaac was involved in getting Jews out of the Soviet Union in  the early 1970s in several ways, including hunger strikes here and in Israel. He also  worked to get Jews out of Ethiopia. Isaac had a strong Zionistic predisposition early on in  his life; he was part of a group who sailed from Marseilles, France, to Palestine in 1948 to assist the young state of Israel. At all times, he was a man of honor and integrity and fought the bigotry and prejudice of his country and the outside world. A month before he died, we went together to a Marine Corps recruiting agency in Colorado. Isaac was so humbled by the American people and their sacrifices. He believed that the United States afforded the Jews the best chance for freedom for Israel. As with his technical work, he was not merely a thinker but a doer. He followed, as I like to say, in the shadows of the famous French historian Marc Bloch (a victim of Nazism), who never sat in his ivory tower alone but pushed to be a part of the history of his time.

This entry was posted in Wandering Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s