Here is a woman who speaks of conferences with the president and then, not missing a beat, of remodeling her kitchen. She reflects on what it means to be a player on the stage of world politics and what it means to be a good wife. And let us not forget the joys of community service, the joys of grandmothering, the joys of cooking.
Here is Shoshana Cardin, whose biography might be titled "The Many Faces of . . ." or perhaps "Woman on the Run." Because she's running a lot these days -- flying, actually -- from Baltimore to Jerusalem and Moscow and Washington, with many a side trip to New York or Chicago or Miami or destinations that blur together after a while. A speech here, a meeting there, and maybe she'll get to sleep in her own bed once a week. Maybe.
But there was a war being fought and suddenly the international significance of being chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations became magnified.
Suddenly a trip to Israel was more than an opportunity to further the work of American Jews, more than an opportunity for Mrs. Cardin, 64, to live out her lifelong dream of promoting Zionism. A trip to Israel meant firsthand observation of a country under attack, then a report to President Bush on exactly what was observed.
"We told him of the difficulties Israel was facing, which he already knew," Mrs. Cardin reports of that White House meeting several weeks ago. "We gave him photographs of the destruction that we saw, we told him that we were very supportive of his position. And we suggested that the lessons to be learned from the terrible experience of this war should be remembered when the time comes to develop plans for peace in the region."
She minces no words in outlining her concept of those lessons.
"The serious problems in the Middle East are the instabilities of the various governments and dictatorships," she explains. "The myth of Arab brotherhood has been completely shattered at this point. The PLO has been discredited since they sided with Saddam Hussein. Israel desperately seeks peace, but we have to understand who the real enemies are now. And where the dangers lie."
These are the issues weighing most heavily on Shoshana Cardin's mind as she takes a brief respite from travel on a Sunday afternoon in her Pikesville home. She sits primly on the blue and yellow couch in the gargantuan blue and yellow living room, dressed not in Sunday-at-home clothes, but in a meticulous navy suit, not a platinum hair out of place, businesslike and all business.
All business, and yet . . . is that the sound of a child at play wafting up from the basement? Indeed. A granddaughter, age 4, was promised a visit, and even after Grandma set up a meeting, the child wanted to come. Because just to be in the house with her grandmother, just to know that she's in the same city, that's a very special treat.
And for a moment, as a grandmother hugs her granddaughter goodbye -- a hug returned in kind, no strangeness or distance here even if time together is hard to come by -- you might forget the impressive titles Shoshana Cardin holds, the even more impressive company she keeps.
You might forget that she also serves as chairman of the National Conference of Soviet Jewry, a position that may have been relegated to a back burner by the Middle East crisis but nevertheless enmeshes her in yet another volatile web of world politics.
And you might forget, watching such a hug, that Mrs. Cardin has moved into these prestigious and responsible positions out of a black cloud that enveloped her family through the mid-'80s as her husband Jerome was tried, convicted and imprisoned for theft in the Old Court Savings and Loan scandal. (He was paroled for medical reasons in November 1989 after serving little over one year of a 15-year sentence.)
But somehow she ties all these packages together into a seamless whole, this organization chairman and loving grandmother, this loyal wife of 42 years and devoted mother of four. She leads the meetings, meets the world leaders and still manages to cook meals for the extended family on Jewish holidays. Never mind a caterer -- she'll cook and bake herself, in the lavender kitchen she designed herself, the room that Ladies Home Journal declared in 1958 to be one of "six unforgettable kitchens" in America.
Her friends and relatives and associates take stabs at explaining what makes Shoshana Cardin tick, how she manages to fill so many roles and fill them well. The same words come up again and again as they describe her: "Intelligent." "Organized." "Articulate." "Loyal."
"She's a remarkable person, feminine yet very authoritative," says Morris Abram, who preceded Mrs. Cardin in both the Soviet Jewry and Conference of Jewish Organizations chairmanships and is now U.S. ambassador to the European United Nations headquarters in Geneva. "She knows what she thinks and she's not afraid to say what she believes."