Here is a woman who speaks of conferences with the president and then, not missing a beat, of remodeling her kitchen. She reflects on what it means to be a player on the stage of world politics and what it means to be a good wife. And let us not forget the joys of community service, the joys of grandmothering, the joys of cooking.
Here is Shoshana Cardin, whose biography might be titled "The Many Faces of . . ." or perhaps "Woman on the Run." Because she's running a lot these days -- flying, actually -- from Baltimore to Jerusalem and Moscow and Washington, with many a side trip to New York or Chicago or Miami or destinations that blur together after a while. A speech here, a meeting there, and maybe she'll get to sleep in her own bed once a week. Maybe.
But there was a war being fought and suddenly the international significance of being chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations became magnified.
Suddenly a trip to Israel was more than an opportunity to further the work of American Jews, more than an opportunity for Mrs. Cardin, 64, to live out her lifelong dream of promoting Zionism. A trip to Israel meant firsthand observation of a country under attack, then a report to President Bush on exactly what was observed.
"We told him of the difficulties Israel was facing, which he already knew," Mrs. Cardin reports of that White House meeting several weeks ago. "We gave him photographs of the destruction that we saw, we told him that we were very supportive of his position. And we suggested that the lessons to be learned from the terrible experience of this war should be remembered when the time comes to develop plans for peace in the region."
She minces no words in outlining her concept of those lessons.
"The serious problems in the Middle East are the instabilities of the various governments and dictatorships," she explains. "The myth of Arab brotherhood has been completely shattered at this point. The PLO has been discredited since they sided with Saddam Hussein. Israel desperately seeks peace, but we have to understand who the real enemies are now. And where the dangers lie."
These are the issues weighing most heavily on Shoshana Cardin's mind as she takes a brief respite from travel on a Sunday afternoon in her Pikesville home. She sits primly on the blue and yellow couch in the gargantuan blue and yellow living room, dressed not in Sunday-at-home clothes, but in a meticulous navy suit, not a platinum hair out of place, businesslike and all business.
All business, and yet . . . is that the sound of a child at play wafting up from the basement? Indeed. A granddaughter, age 4, was promised a visit, and even after Grandma set up a meeting, the child wanted to come. Because just to be in the house with her grandmother, just to know that she's in the same city, that's a very special treat.
And for a moment, as a grandmother hugs her granddaughter goodbye -- a hug returned in kind, no strangeness or distance here even if time together is hard to come by -- you might forget the impressive titles Shoshana Cardin holds, the even more impressive company she keeps.
You might forget that she also serves as chairman of the National Conference of Soviet Jewry, a position that may have been relegated to a back burner by the Middle East crisis but nevertheless enmeshes her in yet another volatile web of world politics.
And you might forget, watching such a hug, that Mrs. Cardin has moved into these prestigious and responsible positions out of a black cloud that enveloped her family through the mid-'80s as her husband Jerome was tried, convicted and imprisoned for theft in the Old Court Savings and Loan scandal. (He was paroled for medical reasons in November 1989 after serving little over one year of a 15-year sentence.)
But somehow she ties all these packages together into a seamless whole, this organization chairman and loving grandmother, this loyal wife of 42 years and devoted mother of four. She leads the meetings, meets the world leaders and still manages to cook meals for the extended family on Jewish holidays. Never mind a caterer -- she'll cook and bake herself, in the lavender kitchen she designed herself, the room that Ladies Home Journal declared in 1958 to be one of "six unforgettable kitchens" in America.
Her friends and relatives and associates take stabs at explaining what makes Shoshana Cardin tick, how she manages to fill so many roles and fill them well. The same words come up again and again as they describe her: "Intelligent." "Organized." "Articulate." "Loyal."
"She's a remarkable person, feminine yet very authoritative," says Morris Abram, who preceded Mrs. Cardin in both the Soviet Jewry and Conference of Jewish Organizations chairmanships and is now U.S. ambassador to the European United Nations headquarters in Geneva. "She knows what she thinks and she's not afraid to say what she believes."
He adds that she remains untainted by her husband's ordeal. "Shoshana Cardin is personally deeply respected, without reservation, by all elements of the Jewish community."
Joel H. Zaiman, her rabbi at Chizuk Amuno Congregation, where she attends services whenever she is in town on Friday nights, calls Mrs. Cardin "a dynamic person, bright and astute, always on target. Whatever her agenda is, it's always clear in her mind. She's purposeful, sensitive, she listens and she hears. She knows how to get things done."
"She has qualities in large doses that others have in small doses," says Myrna Cardin, who is married to Jerome's cousin Ben, Democratic congressman from Maryland's 3rd District. Her cousin-in-law has always been her role model, Myrna Cardin adds. "She can be in a group where the sparks fly, but she makes it possible for everyone to talk rather than shout."
Shoshana Cardin began her career -- and the word seems appropriate, even though none of the many positions she's held has had a salary -- as a volunteer not just in the Jewish women's groups of Baltimore, but in a wide range of community efforts. She explains her motivation with a Hebrew phrase: tikkun olan, which means "help heal and repair this imperfect world."
She healed and repaired on the United Jewish Appeal, the Associated Jewish Charities, the Goldseker Fund, the National Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation, the Maryland Commission for Women, the Chizuk Amuno PTA, the March of Dimes, the United Israel Appeal. The list continues: three single-spaced pages in a resume, with another page of honors and awards. It includes one elective office -- delegate to the 1967 Maryland Constitutional Convention -- which would be her last foray into elective politics because "it's not conducive to family life."
"I grew up in a home where responsibility to community, to fellow man, to people, was part of life," Mrs. Cardin muses. "So I knew that I would have to return to the community whatever blessings I had."
She looks back on her life in parcels, devoting her younger years to her four children, who would become a businessman, a rabbi, a speech pathologist and an attorney. "Having children takes up a segment of one's life, until the children are grown," she says. "And then there's life after. I knew I would be doing something that was both stimulating and productive to the community."
She was born in Tel Aviv, but her parents, seeking quality medical care for her mother after botched surgery for an ulcer, moved to Baltimore when she was 2. As a girl, Shoshana had no ambitions of international leadership. Under her high school yearbook picture (Western High School, 1943) was the unremarkable quote she chose: "I love life and ask no more."
She wanted to be a lawyer, went to night school at Johns Hopkins University, then graduated from UCLA when the family made a brief move West. An appendicitis attack waylaid law school plans and she returned to Baltimore, where she taught for five years at Southern Junior High. "Very challenging," she recalls with a smile that's almost a grimace. "Extremely challenging."
She married a lawyer instead of becoming one, meeting Jerry Cardin on a blind date. She was attracted to his ambition, their shared cultural background, a vision of the life they could have together.
Years later she would be by his side nearly every minute, through the accusations, the trial, the conviction. "The rest of the world had deserted him," she says quietly. "He needed support." She speaks of the pain she felt when he went to jail, "a resolve that I would help him see through this nightmare and go beyond." And there was also "anger and disappointment because those who knew the truth didn't speak."
Though friends may hint that her husband has been something pTC of a millstone -- "what she has accomplished has been without him and in spite of him," says one -- she expresses not a word of criticism about him. "I believed then, I believe now, my husband was innocent," she maintains. The taint never spread personally to Shoshana Cardin. "I wasn't involved, others were," is her simple explanation.
Those closest to her are able to see some positive results from the experience. "I think that all of her strengths were brought together and forged in a way that a lesser experience would not have done," says her son Sanford, 33, who was also drawn into the investigation. "She demonstrated throughout the ordeal that she's a tremendously strong and righteous person who was able to handle adversity in a public spotlight and never lose her dignity."
THE CARDIN FILE
Born: Oct. 10, 1926, in Tel Aviv, Palestine (now Israel).
Family: Married since 1948 to Jerome Cardin; children: Steven, Ilene, Nina and Sanford; nine grandchildren.
Positions: Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry; numerous other leadership positions in community and national organizations.
Education: Graduated from UCLA, 1946; M.A. in planning and administration from Antioch University, 1979.
CFeelings on the end of the war: "I'm thrilled and I say a prayer of thanks that there were so few casualties. I also pray that the president's brilliant approach to this entire effort will really lay the groundwork for this new world order he talks about, and bring peace for the entire world."
Typical week's schedule: Monday, train to New York; Tuesday, fly to Chicago; Tuesday night, fly back to Baltimore; Wednesday, train to Washington; Thursday, meetings in Baltimore; Friday, fly to Florida.