Wednesday evening, a photography exhibit honoring community leader and philanthropist Shoshana Cardin, and her profound role in the struggle for Soviet Jewry, opened at Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Pikesville, MD. The exhibit, commemorating the 25 years since the opening of the gates of the Soviet Union to free Jewish emigration, was prepared by Limmud FSU, together with The Jerusalem Post.
Shoshana Cardin, a world-renowned philanthropist and communal activist known by heads of state, diplomats, and celebrities alike, was an integral leader in the Free Soviet Jewry movement. From 1988 to 1992, Cardin served as chairperson of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, and in 1990, was elected to head the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as the only woman to hold that role. Cardin led numerous delegations to the Soviet Union and met with Soviet officials and leaders to negotiate for the release of thousands of refuseniks who were prohibited from leaving the Soviet Union.
Cardin, who is 89, offered remarks at the reception: “The Soviet Union managed to keep Jews waiting. There was no real reason. They were hostages. It was a difficult time. We were faced with the problem of a dissolving Soviet Union, where nothing was centralized, and a huge group of people anxious yet unable to leave. We knew it had to happen. We knew that millions were waiting for us.”
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), a relative of Mrs. Cardin, was present: “I’ve been in Congress since 1987, and my first day in Congress I joined the caucus on Soviet Jewry. And shortly thereafter, Shoshana was the president of the National Council for Soviet Jewry, so every night I had to report back what I was doing to help save Soviet Jews. I was there at the march in Washington in 1989. I’ve seen it through every facet. We are so proud of the role Shoshana played. She stood up to the commercial interests of this country. She said, America stands for something more fundamental than just commerce – we stand for basic human rights. Shoshana stood up to presidents. She stood up to the State Department. And she stood up to the Soviet Union. Jews are safer today because of Shoshana’s leadership on behalf of Soviet Jews. She taught us that people can change policy. There’s no question that in the State Department, this was not a top priority then. The fight for Soviet Jewry changed the landscape of politics in our country.”
“I think of all us are extraordinarily proud of so many things my mother has done on behalf of the Jewish community and her work on Soviet Jewry,” said Sanford Cardin, president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and son of Shoshana. “It was a seminal moment in Jewish history, and to know she led such a leading role in this movement, is both humbling and inspiring for all of us. It has helped all her children and grandchildren recommit their lives to helping the Jewish people because of the role model she was.”
The “Let My People Go” exhibition is composed of photographs selected from archives and public and private collections, some of them by the distinguished American photographer Robert A. Cumins, with detailed explanatory captions. The exhibit begins with the epic struggle of the Jews in the USSR for the right to emigrate – the “Refuseniks” and “Prisoners of Zion”, and goes on to illustrate the worldwide campaign for their release, known as “Let my People Go!”, the opening of the gates and finally, some of the achievements made by Soviet Jews after attaining their freedom. The exhibition, curated by Asher Weill, was launched in New York in June 2015, and will be shown around the United States, in Israel and in many Jewish communities and at Limmud FSU events around the world, in addition to the Israeli Knesset.
For much of the 75 years, from the onset of the Russian Revolution of 1917 to the era of Perestroika and Glasnost, Jewish life, language, identity, education and culture in the USSR were severely repressed. In the 1970s and 1980s, a popular movement gathered momentum and led thousands of Soviet Jews to agitate and demonstrate, often at the expense of their personal liberty, for the freedom to leave the Soviet Union, to express their Jewish identity, and to repatriate to Israel or live elsewhere. The clandestine movement gathered steam and as a response, Jews and non-Jews across the free world rallied to the cause under the slogan, Shalach et Ami (“Let my People Go”), based on the famous phrase in the biblical Book of Exodus (9:1).
This exhibit illustrates just a few aspects of the struggle in the USSR, as well as the worldwide campaign on behalf of the struggle, the high-profile activists who headed the movement including leaders from the Baltimore area community such as Shoshana Cardin; scenes of joyful homecoming; and finally, a glimpse at some prominent Russian-born individuals who are having an impact on Jewish life today, in Israel and elsewhere, where more than one million Russian-speaking new free immigrants have changed the face of the nation.
“There’s no better person to honor, with our exhibit commemorating this momentous occasion 25 years after opening the gates, than Shoshana Cardin,” said Sandy Cahn, co-founder of Limmud FSU. “She was involved in the struggle, from witnessing it from the point of refuseniks, to leading the American-Jewish response in fundraising and lobbying to pressure the Soviet regime, to ensuring that the aliyah of over 1 million Jews was successful in every aspect. She is a modern-day hero for us. It is fitting that Limmud FSU empowers this successful generation of young Russian-speaking Jews and connects them to their heritage, to their history – in which great leaders like Shoshana took a major part.”