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President-elect of JTA relishes ‘opportunity to inform our people

NEW YORK, June 23 (JTA) — Discussion of Jewish life and Jewish news were a constant in the Cardin home in suburban Baltimore. On Friday evenings, Shoshana Cardin’s parents and in-laws would join her family around the Shabbat dinner table, where discussions of the week’s events were standard fare. Cardin, who was recently elected to begin serving this fall as president of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Board of Directors, wants to replicate her family’s experience in Jewish homes around the world. She sees her new role at the helm of the international Jewish news and feature service as an “opportunity to inform our people” and to “broaden the constituency that is ready to learn.” Cardin will take up the reins from Caryn Rosen Adelman of suburban Chicago, who has served as JTA president since November 1995. Adelman, who will become chairman of JTA’s Board of Directors, was both the first woman and the first person outside the New York metropolitan area to serve in JTA’s top volunteer slot. While Cardin’s election will therefore not break any new ground, it is unusual in another respect, said Marshall Weinberg of New York, who headed the Nominating Committee that selected her. Although it is no longer unusual for a Jewish agency to tap a woman as its president, it is still rare, he observed, for a woman to succeed another woman as head of a Jewish organization. In her new role, Cardin will head an international Board of Directors that provides oversight, guidance and support to the professional staff that runs the daily operations of JTA, the global news service of the Jewish people. Founded in 1917, JTA serves as a primary source of news, analysis and feature stories for more than 100 Jewish publications around the world. Its daily, weekly and monthly publications keep communal, religious and political decision-makers informed of important news developments and issues affecting world Jewry. The agency also maintains a full-fledged news site on the World Wide Web, which can be found at www.jta.org. Cardin is one of the most familiar figures, and one of the most popular orators, in the Jewish world today. She has held the top leadership posts — and was the first woman to do so — at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Israel Appeal, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and CLAL — the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. She has also played major roles in the United Jewish Appeal, the Jewish Agency for Israel and dozens of other local, national and international Jewish and secular organizations. Known for her courage in the face of imposing challenges, Cardin sees one ahead for the Jewish media: to make the “critical breakthrough” to a broader audience. “The Jewish community has to be aware that they have a responsibility to be aware” and to take part in communal decision-making, she said. Cardin, one might say, was born aware of Jewish life. The child of chalutzim, or early Jewish settlers from Europe, she spent her early years in pre-state Palestine, until an illness in the family forced them to seek medical care in the United States. Growing up in Baltimore in a home where news of relatives in Europe and Israel kept worldwide Jewish issues in the air, she continued in her Zionist parents’ footsteps as a young labor Zionist. “Being a Zionist was not the most popular thing in the ’30s and ’40s” in America, Cardin said, but for her it was exciting to share the passions, interests and outlook with a coterie of “ardent” Zionists. That same level of passion and commitment has been an essential part of her long career at the forefront of American Jewish life — and it is those qualities she says she found among the numerous world dignitaries she has met, whose many photographs she keeps in a large scrapbook. Most impressive about those meetings — with leaders from Yitzhak Rabin to Mikhail Gorbachev to Yasser Arafat — was the leaders’ willingness to have frank and open discussions, Cardin said. Her own outspokenness famously brought President Bush to the verge of tears in November 1991, when he met the Conference of Presidents, which Cardin then chaired. A few months earlier, Bush had accused “powerful political forces” — in the form of thousands of Jewish lobbyists — of working against his plan to delay loan guarantees to Israel until it stopped building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Cardin was outraged by the insinuation that Americans acting on their beliefs could be interpreted as a political threat, and she let Bush know it. “I don’t know that others would have had the courage or the ability” to be as forthright and direct as she was, said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the umbrella organization, who worked with Cardin during her two-year tenure. Another rare aspect of Cardin’s leadership is her Jewish literacy, he said. “She has a real Zionist commitment and knowledge. She knows Hebrew, she knows history and she has a real feeling for the tradition” — qualities that “not many leaders share,” he said. Cardin believes they should, however. “A standard of basic Jewish knowledge” should be “required to be proclaimed a Jewish leader,” said Cardin, the mother of four, three of whom are Jewish professionals. There is a “difference between being the head of a federation and the head of the United Way,” she said by way of example. “Any qualified leader can be the head of the United Way. In my opinion, only a Jewishly educated and qualified leader can be head of a federation.” Cardin says that in the computer age, she has witnessed a new kind of Jewish education: participants in “chat room” Internet discussions who are “learning from each other.” That “interchange and exchange of ideas will be very important as we enter the next century,” she said. In this spirit of dialogue, she said, the Jewish media should not “shy away from issues which could create conflict or debate.” She sees JTA as playing an important role in promoting healthy discussion about Jewish issues and keeping the community informed. JTA, she said, presents “an opportunity to afford people an immediacy of knowledge of what is happening in the Jewish world.”

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