Baltimore, Md. – Shoshana Shoubin Cardin, a Baltimore-area philanthropist and champion of world Jewry and women’s rights whose intellect and persuasiveness influenced presidents and prime ministers, died of natural causes early Friday morning. She was 91.
Born in Tel Aviv before the founding of the state of Israel, Mrs. Cardin moved to Baltimore as a child and lived initially with her parents (the late Sarai and Chana Shoubin) and brother (the late Zvi Shoubin) on the east side, then home to recent immigrants of all faiths. She met and married her late husband, Jerome S. Cardin, in Baltimore and raised four children. Although Baltimore was her home, Mrs. Cardin became a respected citizen of the world through her leadership of major Jewish organizations in the United States and on behalf of her beloved state of Israel.
Mrs. Cardin’s passionate engagement in the civic life of her city and beyond reflected her strong belief in the Jewish traditions of taking responsibility for each other and one’s community. Petite in stature and always immaculately dressed, Mrs. Cardin was a powerhouse in advocating for the causes in which she believed, whether the issue was women’s rights, the right of Jews to become Israeli citizens or restrictions on Jews in the former Soviet Union.
In 1977, Mrs. Cardin was invited to appear on the Today Show to debate a representative of Diner’s Club about its refusal to issue credit cards in women’s names. The representative quickly learned what others would discover about Mrs. Cardin in the years ahead: she was more prepared, a better communicator and far more persuasive. While she never heard again from Diner’s Club, American Express hired an executive to promote women’s credit rights a few weeks after her Today Show appearance.
Mrs. Cardin was the first woman elected president of the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF) in 1984 and, 15 years later, assisted in its merger with the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) to create what is now known as the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). In 1990, she broke another glass ceiling when she became the first woman ever elected to lead the influential Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations responsible for representing the interests of American Jews to the U.S. government. Four years later, Mrs. Cardin became chair of the United Israel Appeal (UIA), the lead fundraising organization for the state of Israel in the United States, which helps raise money for local groups in the Jewish homeland.
In her role as chair of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry from 1988-1992, Mrs. Cardin was instrumental in helping fight for the freedom of Jews in Russia and Soviet republics, publicly challenging Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and attending seminal meetings that led to a loosening of restrictions against the more than 11,000 Jewish “refuseniks” then living in the Soviet Union. Eventually, and as a direct result of her efforts, more than 1.2 million Jews were able to emigrate from the Soviet Union.
During her tenure at the Conference of Presidents, Mrs. Cardin also had a public exchange of letters and a private conversation with President George H.W. Bush about a problematic comment he made to the press about “Jewish lobbyists” during the debate over loan guarantees, one for which she was hailed by the Jewish community for speaking truth to power.
In Maryland, she served as chair of the state’s Commission for Women, working to ensure women could obtain credit on their own; chair of the Maryland Commission on Human Relations (1979-1982); and chair of Maryland’s State Employment and Training Council (1979-1983). She was also elected to serve as a delegate to the Maryland Constitutional Convention in 1967 and was selected to lead The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore in 1983.
A public-school teacher early in her married life, she was a strong advocate of Jewish education for people of all ages. In addition to her passion for Jewish day school education for students of all denominations, she created ACHARAI: The Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish Leadership Institute to strengthen the knowledge and skills of volunteer leaders of all synagogues and Jewish communal organizations in the Baltimore area.
Honored and praised for decades of contributions to Jewish civic life, Mrs. Cardin was the recipient of many awards, including the National Zionist Organization of America’s Justice Louis D. Brandeis Award and the Henrietta Szold Humanitarian Award given by Hadassah, the leading Jewish women’s organization. She received several honorary doctorates of humane letters, including one from Syracuse University and one from Bar-Ilan University, and was inducted in the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 2005.
Mrs. Cardin’s Jewish heritage and faith inspired her passion and pursuits: “The most important message I have wanted to give people has been the importance, the pride and the responsibility, 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.”
Mrs. Cardin is survived by her four children, Steven, Ilene, Nina and Sanford, 13 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Her husband, Jerome, died in 1993.