In 1988, when a controversy was raging over a “Who Is a Jew” amendment in the Knesset that would have denied Israeli citizenship to those with non-Orthodox conversions, Shoshana Cardin of Baltimore played a key role. As the first woman lay leader of the Council of Jewish Federations (now JFNA, the Jewish Federations of North America), she led a small delegation of U.S. communal leaders who flew directly from the annual General Assembly to Israel to protest the bill. Their pressure was key to the decision to withdraw the bill.
Three years later, President George H.W. Bush angered American Jews by saying he was one “lonely” guy “up against some powerful… Jewish lobbyists.” He was referring to about 1,000 pro-Israel participants in Washington to lobby against the president’s resistance to an Israeli request for U.S. guarantees for $10 billion in loans for resettling Soviet immigrants. It was Shoshana Cardin, then the first woman president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who met privately with Bush and came away encouraged by what she described as a heartfelt apology.
And it was during her tenure as chair of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, between 1988 and 1992, that Cardin publicly challenged Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on his government’s restrictive policies toward Jews, helping to lead the effort that led eventually to the emigration of more than a million Jews from the Soviet Union.
The woman who personified “The Pride of Baltimore,” the iconic tall ship in the Baltimore harbor, died May 18 at the age of 91 after several years of failing health.
In her calm but confident manner, with a regal bearing but always “of the people,” the former public school teacher became a philanthropist, leader of American Jewry and a women’s rights activist admired for her commitment to the Jewish people and human rights. She broke many glass ceilings, including as the first woman to chair the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund of Baltimore, and was president of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency from 1999 to 2001.
Her son, Sandy, eulogized her as “simultaneously visionary and grounded, always proud and in touch with her roots…” He said she treated everyone with dignity and respect “whether she was giving a talk to the sisterhood of a small congregation or meeting with presidents and prime ministers.”
Shoshana Cardin was a strong advocate for Jewish education and said she always sought to impart “the blessing of being Jewish. That’s what gives me the strength to challenge what I have challenged, and bring about change where I could.”
She lifted the spirits of so many who knew her and will long be remembered not only for her accomplishments but for her elegance and grace.