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Jewish leader creates a stir

CLEVELAND, Nov. 17 (JTA) — A day before she was slated to address the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities — the continent’s largest annual gathering of Jewish leaders — Shoshana Cardin predicted that her comments would create a stir. Once again, she hit the mark. “I have always felt that we are guests in a host country,” she said during her 20-minute address to one of the most well-attended sessions of the Nov. 14-16 conference, a Monday afternoon plenary focusing on the 2004 presidential election. “The calendar is Christian. We are guests in a wonderful, wonderful society because we are free to worship as we feel. “But once again, we are afraid.” Then, clearly irritating some Jewish Republicans in the crowd, she noted that President Bush has said that he is willing to “reach out to all who share my goal.” Cardin paused and said, “That doesn’t exactly include me, but I don’t know if it includes you. “To reach out means to all, not only to those who share his goals. That picture I painted is disconcerting, but it’s realistic.” Many conversations overheard throughout the G.A. mentioned Cardin and her remarks. In part of her charge, she said that the movement, which includes 155 federations and 400 other community groups, must limit its traditionally large agenda of being engaged in virtually every major policy debate. “We will have to limit the number of battles in which we engaged in the past,” she said. “It’s essential that we in the Jewish community develop a sense of priorities.” And in doing that, Jewish professionals and volunteers must return to Jewish basics, a familiar G.A. theme to veteran Cardin watchers. “If faith is going to be the impetus for policies, we need to be more aware of our faith. People of faith usually understand people of a different faith if the people have an understanding that is rooted in principle,” she said. “Our sages, our Torah, our teachings, have given us the teachings of responsible behavior. We need to speak faith language comfortably. As a rule, we have shied away from it.” The work must start, she said, within the Jewish community, since 69 percent of Orthodox Jews voted for Bush. “We must participate in a healing process among ourselves because we have differences,” she said. She did not, however, end with a predictable “we shall overcome” message so typical of addresses by Jewish leaders. “Can we develop a consensus agenda in a relatively short time, and do we have the will power to limit our battles? I don’t know,” Cardin said. The candid comments were characteristic for someone known nationally as the First Lady of Jewish volunteers, and part of why Cardin was honored the next morning as the first lay leader to have an issue of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service dedicated in his or her honor, which was made possible by a gift from her children and several Jewish groups, including the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “The concept is you need visionaries, but you need leaders to carry it out,” Steven Huberman, of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said during an early morning presentation to a packed room. The ceremony included honoring young professionals and a paid tribute to Ralph Goldman, the now 90-year-old legendary leader of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Huberman noted Cardin’s “star-studded resume.” Indeed, her many titles — often the first time such positions were held by a woman — have included being the top volunteer at the Associated, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, CLAL: The Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, the Council of Jewish Federations and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Today, she is actively helping direct the growth of the Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish Community High School, now in its second academic year. Her most publicized leadership moments came in both Jerusalem and Washington, D.C. In 1989, she told Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, then contemplating whether to change the Jewish state’s definition of “Who Is A Jew?,” that he should not “interfere with laws of personal status.” Then, two years later, she told the first President George Bush that he was unknowingly fomenting anti-Semitism by the way in which he commented on roughly 1,000 Jewish lobbyists who converged on Capitol Hill to lobby against the administration’s desires to withhold loan guarantees over disagreements with the Israeli government. Marc Terrill, president of the Associated, in co-presenting the award with Huberman, referred to Cardin as “a Jewish hero” and “the embodiment, the personification of everything that is good. She stands for honor, intelligence, passion and eloquence.” For her part, Cardin, joking about an event that began at 7:30 a.m., said, “This is a memorable event for me, first, because I don’t get up at 6:30 in the morning.” And she pressed the lay-professional partnership that has marked her own path. “To be honored by people who are in their positions because of their love of Judaism, their love of the Jewish people, certainly not for their income, is a tremendous honor and I mean that seriously,” she said. “Nothing would be accomplished if it depended only on the lay people, and nothing would be accomplished if it depended only on the professionals. It’s the team.” In ending, Cardin noted that her three children are Jewish communal professionals “because we believe in it so deeply, and they are so wonderful.”