In the Jewish tradition, there is the idea of tikkun olam.
The Hebrew expression, roughly translated, means "healing and repairing an imperfect world." Shoshana Cardin says it is a concept that has guided her throughout a life of service to her community and her country.
"From my Jewish background and the life ethic of my parents, I learned a responsibility to help the world be more humane, more comfortable, more rational," says Cardin, 64.
She has carried out that responsibility through a lifetime of posts that fill a five-page curriculum vitae.
The latest addition to the list -- and perhaps the most important job of the Baltimorean's long career -- is the chairmanship of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Elected last month by the conference membership, she is the first woman to head the organization since it was founded about 30 years ago.
The primary role of the conference is to supply the United States government with the views of American Jewry on issues related to Israel. The chairman maintains regular contact with the leaders of both the U.S. and Israeli governments, says Cardin.
"Our contact with both governments is at the highest levels," she says. "During our existence, we have kept in close touch with the Congress, the secretary of state and top officials of the administration."
Cardin, a teacher in the city schools during the late 1940s, also was the first woman to lead the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund of Baltimore (1983-85), the Council of Jewish Federations (1984-87) and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, a job she was elected to in 1989 and still holds.
However, she downplays the fact that she was the first woman in these slots. So does Darrell Friedman, the current president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore (as the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund was renamed last year).
"Being the first woman and so on, that's not even an issue here," says Friedman, who served as the senior vice president of the Council of Jewish Federations under Cardin. "She got where she is because she is an extraordinary leader with great commitment and passion. She's a person of charisma. People naturally follow her. They have trust in her judgments."
Rabbi Joel Zaiman heads Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Pikesville, where Cardin is a member. As the president of the Synagogue Council of America, Zaiman belongs to the organization that Cardin now heads. He, too, praises her as a first-rate leader.
"She's intelligent, articulate, insightful, persuasive," he says. "She has the knack of being able to find points of commonality among people when, on the surface, those points don't appear to be there. She's a marvelous speaker and a knowledgeable Jew -- that is, she has studied Judaism and can speak Hebrew."
Born in Tel Aviv when it was in the British-mandated territory of Palestine, Cardin says the Persian Gulf War is "probably the most challenging moment we've had for 50 years, for both the nation and Jews."
Cardin's duties during the crisis, she says, will be to "interpret events from the Jewish and Israeli perspective and make sure rumors aren't spread."
"For example," she said, "after the recent assassinations [of Palestine Liberation Organization members], there were rumors that Israelis were responsible. When we hear things like that, we check them out and make sure they don't lead to a backlash against Jews."
Cardin departed yesterday with a delegation to the Soviet Union, in her capacity as the chairman of the Soviet Jewry conference.
"We want to see if the rebirth of Jewish life is continuing there and if emigration of Soviet Jews is continuing," she says. "And we're going to investigate the situation of long-term refuseniks [Soviet Jews who are forbidden by their government to leave the nation]."