Shoshana: Memoirs of
Shoshana Shoubin Cardin

By Shoshana Shoubin Cardin. Edited by Karen L. Falk.
Introduction by Rabbi Joel H. Zaiman.
Baltimore: Jewish Museum of Maryland, 2008..xiii + 219 pp.
Includes DVD “Shoshana: The Speeches.”

Shoshana Shoubin was born in British Mandate Palestine in 1926 and arrived in the United States with her parents in 1927. Her career as a political activist began not too much later. As she writes, “When I was about eleven or twelve, I collected the most money of any Hebrew school student in the entire Baltimore system on Jewish National Fund (or Keren Kayemet) Day” (p. 21). She won her first election at an early age. “When I was about fourteen years old, Imma said, ‘You should run for president of Habonim,’ which was the name of the Labor Zionist youth group. … Somehow, the next thing I knew, I was president” (p. 23).

Shoshana became a leader of a variety of Jewish organizations. She also joined a non-Jewish group after she married Jerry Cardin. Jerry was a Mason, and Shoshana informs us that “all the Cardin women were members of the Order of the Eastern Star (OES), the Masonic women’s auxiliary” (p. 45). I must say I was surprised to learn of a Masonic women’s auxiliary. I was even more surprised by their rituals. Shoshana, who belonged to an all-Jewish chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, writes, “I was appalled when I entered our meeting room for the first time, to be inducted into the Order, and found that we were expected to kneel at an altar and recite from the New Testament” (p. 45). Are there still all-Jewish chapters of Masonic organizations for women? Are members still expected to repeat verses from the New Testament? Be that as it may, being a Jewish Mason was part of Shoshana’s path to community leadership.

The Cardins were involved in both Maryland Democratic-Party politics and Jewish organizational life. “Israeli generals visited us; we hosted dinners for United States Senators Henry Jackson, Abraham Ribicoff, Jacob Javits, Charles Mac Mathias, and Daniel Brewster; we entertained Vice President Hubert Humphrey” (p. 55). Wow! The involvement went beyond Jewish issues. In 1962, the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations, to which Shoshana belonged, “joined the movement to integrate motels and restaurants along Route 40” (p. 62). Of course, all human-rights issues are connected, and it made perfect sense for Jewish groups to support integration. Jewish individuals as well as organizations were active in the civil rights movement. A logical next step was women’s rights. As a result of Shoshana’s activities on this question she received “an invitation from the office of Governor Spiro T. Agnew in 1968 to join the Maryland Commission of the status of women” (p. 68). Agnew, later Vice President, is not thought of as a supporter of gender equality, but as early as 1968 he was involved in this question.Shoshana’s autobiography adds to our knowledge of American history.

While Shoshana Cardin was advancing from success to success, her husband, Jerry, was arrested. He had been a partner is a savings and loan company named Old Court, but he sold 41% of his shares and thought “he no longer qualified as a principal, and he felt able to relinquish the attendant responsibilities and headaches. This proved to be a tragic mistake” (p. 104). He was indicted in 1986, and he chose to plead not guilty. During the trial, his advanced emphysema grew worse. “In addition, he struggled with depression and disillusionment as years-long friendships vanished into thin air when he most needed support” (p. 107). He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but was released after 13 months on medical grounds. Shoshana was emotionally devastated; she felt she had to do something to absorb her energies, and so she accepted the chairmanship of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.

One chairmanship leads to another. In 1990, Shoshana was the first woman to be elected chair of the Conference of American Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. Then, in 1991, the first Gulf War took place, and Iraq launched SCUD missiles against Israel, despite the fact that it was already fighting against a large coalition. Despite the missiles, the United States did not permit Israel to retaliate against Iraq. After the war, on March 6, 1991, President G.H.W. Bush gave a speech in which he said, “We must do all that we can to close the gap between Israel and the Arab states—and between Israel and the Palestinians” (p. 131). Bush asked Israeli Prime Minister Shamir for a settlement freeze, and Shamir refused. At the time, Israel was desperately seeking loan guarantees from the United States in order to settle the large number of refugees from the Soviet Union. Bush wanted the loans to be deferred until Israel complied with his request. At a news conference, the President said he was “up against very strong and effective groups that go up to the Hill. I heard today there were something like a thousand lobbyists in the Hill working the other side of the question” (p. 139). Shoshana wrote President Bush a letter saying, among other things, “I found some of the comments at your press conference on Thursday to be disturbing and subject to misinterpretation” (p. 142). The President responded to Shoshana in a letter printed in The New York Times in which he said, “We obviously disagree on the question of a 120-day delay in the submission of loan guarantees” (p. 144). Shoshana said it was a “beautiful and thoughtful letter,” but the disagreement remained. She had had a direct confrontation with the President of the United States. As is often the case with Jewish political activists, she had influence but very little power.

In addition to meeting with George H. W. Bush, Shoshana met Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. She was more effective in persuading Gorbachev to fulfill her request than she had been with Bush. She asked him to make a statement condemning anti-Semitism, and he did. She writes, “Mikhail Gorbachev had been perceptive enough to see the approach of a new reality for his nation and courageous enough to turn away publicly from the demons of the past” (p. 158). Did her encounter with Gorbachev make any permanent difference? The USSR is gone, and Russia today is no friend of Israel.

Shoshana, as we have seen, was the first woman to lead the Conference of American Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. She never felt restricted by her gender. “When at work, I rarely thought of myself as a woman, or as a representative of womankind” (p. 198). She was recognized and appreciated for her work. The New Jewish High School of Greater Baltimore was renamed the Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish Community High School. She ends her autobiography with these words: “But this Jewish high school which bears my name is my proudest achievement—bar none. It is the reward of a blessed lifetime” (p. 202).

This article appeared in Midstream, Summer 2011.