As long as her parents can remember, Leah Horowitz had always been drawn to adventure and fascinated with the wider world. The Elkins Park native caught the "Africa bug" during a college semester in Zimbabwe; since then, she logged substantial time in Ghana and South Africa, focusing on issues such as sustainable agriculture, good governance and the role that gender plays in developing societies.
The 29-year-old had spent more than two years working for the Washington, D.C.-based International Food Policy Research Institute and, according to one of her supervisors there, she was a gifted researcher and writer. But not content to deal with theory and numbers, she requested a transfer to the organization's Ghana office, where she'd previously spent several months. She'd been living in the capital of Accra since October, and in March was officially named head of programs for the country.
Shenggen Fan, director of the Development Strategy and Governance Division for the institute, said that Horowitz was concerned with the question of how agriculture can be used "as a tool to increase food security and reduce poverty."
On May 23, Horowitz and a few friends decided to take a break from the hectic capital and set out for a beach resort, a five-hour drive away. Halfway into the trip, the vehicle collided with a minibus; Horowitz and two others on the bus were killed. Hundreds attended her June 4 funeral service at Goldsteins' Rosenberg's Raphael-Sacks in Philadelphia.
"She was a determined and special young woman. She could have done anything she wanted," said her mother, Sandee Mandel, noting that her daughter thought little about wealth and rarely consulted with her parents before embarking on a project.
The 1998 valedictorian of Cheltenham High School earned a bachelor's degree in geography at Dartmouth College, and a master's in food policy and economics at Tufts University.
She also served as an AmeriCorps volunteer, where she worked with the Oregon Food Bank and taught sustainable farming to troubled youths.
Her father, David Horowitz, said that his daughter possessed a strong Jewish identity fostered at Congregation Rodeph Shalom's former suburban campus, where she became a Bat Mitzvah, and at the Gratz College Hebrew High School.
In 1997, Leah Horowitz visited Israel with NIFTY, the Reform youth movement. Her father said that the trip coincided with a suicide bombing in Jerusalem; the teens were told not to venture out alone. Of course, Horowitz didn't listen.
"She told me later that she snuck out," said David Horowitz. Her rationale: The Israelis were back in the streets, living their lives, and she would do the same thing.
In addition to her parents, Horowitz is survived by a younger brother, Scott Horowitz, as well as grandparents Doris and Jacob Mandel, and Florence Horowitz.