Delivered by Sanford (Sandy) Cardin
22 May 2018
Chizuk Amuno Congregation, Baltimore, Maryland
I cannot think of a more appropriate place than the main sanctuary of Chizuk Amuno to honor the life, and mourn the death, of Shoshana Shoubin Cardin, “Mom” to me, my brother and my sisters, and Savta to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. For it was here that we observed all the chaggim, celebrated our b’nai mitzvot, atoned for our sins and heard the fiery appeals for the purchase of Israel Bonds that Mom made from this very bima.
Thank you, Rabbi Wechsler, Cantor Perlman and the board of the congregation for allowing us to be here today.
Thanks as well to all of you who have traveled from near and far to show your love and respect for our mom. We will always remember your kindness and thoughtfulness that you, as well as the team at Levinsons, showed us at this most difficult time.
Our family is also incredibly appreciative of the attention and support Mom received during the last years of her life from a “dream team” of dedicated and compassionate doctors, nurses and aides. We want to thank Keya, the captain of the team, as well as Darlene, Leikeisha, Sherry, Vernice and the other caregivers for the additional years and magical moments you allowed us to share with our mother since joining our family.
And, above all else, my brother and I want to thank our sisters, Ilene and Nina, for their total and complete devotion to Mom’s well-being ever since she was no longer capable of fully caring for herself. The sacrifices they made to make sure Mom was never left unattended and her medical needs immediately addressed were endless and exhausting, and yet they never wavered; Mom was their priority and, without them, the rest of our family would have never been able to enjoy the many simchas we shared with Savta these past few years. Thank you both so, so much. We love you.
It was around 7:30 last Friday morning that my mother drew her last breath. The end came much more quickly than we anticipated; just the day before, we expected she would be returning home from the hospital the next morning. Her 91-year-old body had other ideas, however, and decided to shut down before any of us were truly ready to say good-bye. As a friend wrote me just the other day, you can be prepared for the death of a parent, but you are never ready.
Where do I start to convey the magnificence of the life my mother lived? Do I begin with her total devotion to family? Or with her unbreakable bond with her beloved Jewish people? Or with the long list of honors and awards she garnered for her many and diverse accomplishments? Or with her rightful place as one of the great leaders of our time? Or with all of those for whom she was an incredible mentor and role model?
Should I focus on what my mom meant to me, to my family and to those who knew her best? If so, how can I adequately describe the completeness with which she loved, as a daughter, sibling, spouse, parent and grandparent? What can I write to begin to share with you the fullness of her embrace, physically and emotionally? Where are the words I need to help you understand the degree to which she enabled, empowered, inspired and motivated all of her children to see the world as a miraculous and wondrous place that, at the same time, we have a responsibility as Jews to try to perfect?
No, words are insufficient. I need a brush or a chisel or a musical instrument. I need some other way to express my love, respect and admiration for my mother. To really help you see and feel what my mother meant to me, my family and so many others. She was a mountain of a human being, her feet unshakably affixed to the land while her head soared to the skies. She was simultaneously visionary and grounded, always proud and in touch with her roots even as she towered above most with her intellect, her grace and her unparalleled ability to communicate.
And, yet, today words are all I have, so I will do my best to help you see our mother as we saw her – someone who loved each of us unconditionally and exactly as the person we grew to become. She was the beloved matriarch of our incredibly tight-knit family, one comprised of very different individuals, lifestyles and perspectives.
A decade ago, my mother published her memoirs. On the cover of her autobiography is a large and beautiful photograph of my mom in her early teens, a headshot she told us was taken by a man who thought she could be a very successful model. He was right, of course, even if things did not turn out in the way he envisioned. You see, that striking young woman with amazing eyes and perfect features became an incredibly successful role model, a woman to whom countless others have looked up for inspiration, for empowerment and for motivation.
My mother truly saw the spark of the divine in every person and, as a result, was an egalitarian of the highest form. During her long and storied career as a communal activist, my mother shattered countless glass ceilings and paved the way for women to fight for gender equity, a struggle she would want us to continue today. She bore no bias and never saw herself – despite her talent and accomplishments – as being anything other than a “person of the people” with the responsibility to show compassion, pursue justice and work for the betterment of life everywhere.
She taught through her words and deeds that every person was born b’tzelem Elohim (“in God’s image”) and deserved to be treated equally, with dignity and with respect.
That was a message, along with so many other important ones, my mother expressed throughout her career as a leader, regardless of whether she was giving a talk to the sisterhood of a small congregation or meeting with presidents and prime ministers.
And she met a lot of them. She was totally in her element among the greatest minds and political figures of her generation, and she shone the brightest when she challenged Mikhail Gorbachev in public, reprimanded President George H.W. Bush in private and reminded more than one prime minister of Israel that the answer to “who is a Jew” was far more inclusive than they or the chief rabbis of Israel cared to admit.
Of course, her greatest passion of all and the life work from which she derived her greatest pleasure and happiness was being a wife and mother. Nothing, and I mean nothing, meant more to my mother than her family. She was an incredibly devoted daughter and sister, a wife who enjoyed the highest highs and endured the lowest lows in her marriage, a mother who was always there for each of her children whenever they needed her or celebrated a special moment, and a loving Savta to 13 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Among the fondest memories of our mom took place in the home she built with our loving dad, Jerry, in 1957, and chose to live the next 61 years of her life – way too many of which were without him since he died in 1993, a couple of years shy of his 70th birthday.
It was in our dining room that we learned the rituals and joys of living a meaningful Jewish life, where every Shabbat and Jewish holiday was a family affair, always including all four grandparents as well as any other family member or friend who needed or wanted to experience the warmth of our togetherness.
It was from our kitchen that my mother made us eat liver, try schav – a disgusting grass soup – and encouraged us to eat every part of the chicken – including the gizzard, neck and feet – as a way to connect to the time in her life when food was not always plentiful and often had to be stretched to be sure everyone had enough.
And it was in our living room that we were taught manners, the “right way” to shake hands and how to look someone in the eye and establish a connection, regardless of whether it was a TV repairman, a TV personality or a United States Senator. And it was in the same room that we played the Capitol records my uncle sent us and Mom tried to teach us how to dance the cha-cha and bossa nova.
These last several days, the outpouring of affection and respect for my mother has been incredible and overwhelming. Our family has received thousands of calls, emails, texts and cards expressing love and support, all of which we appreciate more than you can imagine. It is heartwarming and comforting to know just how many lives our mother affected in such powerful and positive ways, and we cannot thank everyone enough for sharing your stories with us.
And for those of you who have suggested there must have been a difference between the Shoshana you knew and the woman we were incredibly privileged to call “Mom,” you will be surprised to know the truth. In many more ways than not, our mother was the same at home as she was in the spotlight.
You knew her as graceful, dignified and well-kept; regal in so many ways.
So did we.
You knew her as an astute, learned and articulate spokesperson for the causes she held most dear, especially for her beloved state of Israel.
So did we.
You knew her as kind, compassionate, caring and loving, deeply devoted to helping others find their way through the dilemmas and challenges life throws at all of us at one time or another.
So did we.
You knew her as someone who made you feel like the most important person on the face of the earth when you spoke with her, the embodiment of the kind of empathy this world needs so much today.
So did we.
You knew her as a leader who inspired people to work their hardest and achieve their full potential as they fulfilled their responsibility of tikkun olam, repairing the world.
So did we.
And you knew her as an individual who expected all around her to understand that what she would want as a legacy is not her name on a building or on a prize, but that each of us live our lives as she lived hers: committed to our families, devoted to our people and responsible for each other.
So did we.
My mother would not want us to leave here today simply remembering her. She would want us to follow her, to act upon the realization that it is the responsibility of each of us – not anyone else – to build the kind of just and peaceful world in which we all want our children and future generations to live.
It is fitting that right now – just on the other side of this building – 350 children are learning Hebrew, studying Torah and growing strong so that they, too, will be inspired to do what they can, each in their own way, to build a proud, vibrant Jewish people and bring joy, love and harmony to good people everywhere.
And, tonight, across the hall, one of her great-grandchildren will participate in Krieger Schechter’s humash ceremony where he will be among the third graders who receive their own Torah.
The world is a little bit of a lesser place without Mom. But not for long. We have faith, as did our mother, that all those she taught, inspired and empowered will draw strength from her remarkable life and help lead us to a better tomorrow.
She had faith in G-d and in us, and we can best honor her memory by being servant leaders.
Shalom, Mom. Your days have passed, but your love, your immensity and your indominatable spirit will never be forgotten. Indeed, they and the values by which you lived your extraordinary life will serve as a source of strength, of inspiration and of compassion for generations to come.
We love you, Mom, so very much, and we will honor your legacy by fighting for family, for justice and for the Jewish people for the rest of our lives.
Cain y’hee rawtzon, may it be G-d’s will.
And let us all say, “Amen.”