Shoshana Cardin is Unanimous Pick to Chair Conference of Presidents

Shoshana Cardin, who has made a name for herself as a strong and outspoken leader in a variety of American Jewish organizational roles, was elected unanimously Tuesday as chairwoman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Cardin steps into what will effectively be a two-year term at a difficult time in U.S.-Israeli relations, one of the main areas of focus for the conference, an umbrella organization of 46 national Jewish organizations.

Over the past few months, the conference has been busy working to secure Israel’s position with the U.S. administration, a task now complicated by President Bush’s struggle to maintain good relations with the Arab partners in his international campaign to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

The conference, which is concerned specifically with strengthening the U.S.-Israeli alliance, as well as protecting the interests of Israel and Jews worldwide, serves the American Jewish leadership as a primary forum for dialogue with both U.S. and Israeli government leaders.

During the chairmanship of Seymour Reich, whose second one-year term will officially end at midnight Dec. 31, the conference faced a surge of U.S. criticism of Israel.

The two countries have repeatedly come into open conflict on the Middle East peace process and Israel’s handling of the now 3-year-old Palestinian uprising in the Israeli-administered territories.

FIRST WOMAN TO HEAD CONFERENCE

American anger at Israeli conduct during and after the Oct. 8 riots on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem led to two rare U.S.-backed condemnations of Israel in the U.N. Security Council. And this week, State Department officials deplored Israel’s decision to resume deportations of Palestinians from the administered territories.

“The next two years are going to be difficult,” said Reich, who has also just completed his term as president of B’nai B’rith International and will now devote more time to his law practice.

“Whatever the outcome of the Gulf crisis, there will be increased pressure on Israel to move forward the peace process, greater reliance on the United Nations and the danger of an influx of weapons to so-called moderate Arab countries,” he said.

But the 64-year-old Cardin, who is known for her intellect, leadership capabilities and commitment to the Jewish community, is well prepared to handle the range of issues that will confront her as chairwoman, Reich and other Jewish leaders said.

And as the first woman to head the 31-year-old organization, she represents the strides women have made and can make within Jewish leadership, they said.

“I’m delighted that we have finally matured to have a woman, a lady, lead us,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. “She is a proven leader in the Jewish community who has been tested in times of crisis and difficulty.”

Alan Tichnor, who served on the nominating committee and is presidents of the United Synagogue of America, said Cardin gave a presentation to the committee that was “par excellence.”

“Those who had been on the nominating committee before said it was the best they ever heard. She’s powerful, knowledgeable and well respected,” he said.

Another candidate for the position was Max Kampelman, a former ADL officer who headed arms control negotiations with the Soviets in the Reagan administration.

Kampelman, who would have brought to the position excellent government connections, was turned down in part because he did not fulfill the precondition of being president of a major Jewish organization.

PRIORITIES ARE CLEAR

Although the term of office is officially one year, chairpersons of the conference historically have been renominated for a second term.

Cardin, saying she is ready to undertake the challenge of leading the Conference of Presidents, called the organization a “vital instrument in the American Jewish community, serving as a consensus builder and communicator” to the important players in U.S.-Israeli relations.

“The priorities almost identify themselves,” she said. “There is a relation between the exciting, massive aliyah and the ability of Israel to maintain a secure position at the same time welcoming incredible numbers of olim.”

She predicted that much of the new year will be spent dealing with the fallout from the Persian Gulf crisis, assuring no linkage is made between Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait and Israel’s administration of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Cardin has spent the past two years serving as chairwomen of the National Conference of Soviet Jewry, during a time when the priorities of the Soviet Jewry movement shifted from campaigns to free Soviet Jews to efforts to help resettle them in Israel.

Prior to that she was president of the Council of Jewish Federations, the representative body of 200 community federations in the United States and Canada.

Cardin also gained prominence in the autumn of 1988 for spearheading opposition to efforts in the Israeli Knesset to amend the Law of Return.

The so-called “Who Is a Jew” amendment, which would have denied Israeli citizenship to immigrants whose conversion to Judaism did not meet Orthodox standards, was ultimately withdrawn in the face of overwhelming pressure from American Jews.

ORTHODOX ARE SATISFIED

It was because of Cardin’s role in convincing Israeli leaders not to press the amendment at that time that reports started circulating of Orthodox antagonism toward her nomination for chairwoman of the Conference of Presidents.

But during the nomination process, which started three months ago and ended in early December, a meeting Cardin held with Orthodox leaders left them feeling reassured that her expected nomination would pose no problems, said an Orthodox rabbi who took part.

“It was a very good meeting, and we feel confident that it will turn out fine,” said Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, president of Poalei Agudath Israel, an Orthodox group with official observer status in the Conference of Presidents.

“I don’t expect any trouble with the Orthodox over her,” he said.

In a telephone interview before Tuesday’s vote on her nomination, Cardin said she believed the religious issue was now a non-issue. Because the conference contains both Reform and Orthodox Jewish groups, as well as a myriad of secular ones, Cardin and others said religious issues are rarely if ever addressed.

Born to Latvian parents in Palestine, Cardin arrived at age 2 in Baltimore, where she later became active in local Jewish affairs.

One of her first major leadership roles in the Jewish community was as president of the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland from 1965 to 1967.

She was the first woman to chair the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund of Baltimore, and she has served on the boards of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, United Israel Appeal and United Jewish Appeal, to name but a few.

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