In commemoration of Israel’s 70th anniversary, the JT produced a three-article series, profiling six Baltimoreans whose Israel advocacy dates back to the 1800s. In this third and final installment, we profile living legends Shoshana Cardin, who negotiated the release of thousands of refuseniks from USSR, and Richard Pearlstone, a consistent presence with the Jewish Agency for Israel who is committed to promoting ” collective responsibility” in the Diaspora.
Richard Pearlstone is not a new name to many in the Baltimore Jewish community. In a partnership with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, Pearlstone founded the Jack Pearlstone Institute for Living Judaism in 1982. The physical retreat center, now known as the Pearlstone Center, opened in 2001.
While Pearlstone’s local contributions are widely recognized, what might be less well-known to Baltimore Jews are his contributions to international Jewry.
Pearlstone began serving in the Jewish Agency for Israel in 1985. Over the years he has served as the chairman of budget and finance and chairman of the board of governors, and he currently serves as chairman of assests and liabilities.
As chairman of the board of governors, Pearlstone restructured the partnership between the Jewish Agency for Israel and other international Jewish organizations such as United Jewish Appeal, Jewish Federations of North America and the World Zionist Organization.
His biggest challenge came when he was chairman of budget and finance from 1999 to 2001. In 1990, Operation Exodus helped nearly one million Soviet Jews resettle in America and Israel. The successful campaign, however, left the Jewish Agency with a debt of approximately $600 million.
“It took us almost 15 years to work that debt off and have a pristine balance, which we do now,” Pearlstone said.
Although Pearlstone recognizes the accomplishments he and others have made for the relationship between the United States and Israel, there are still some issues he would like to address.
The Jewish Agency, he said, will need to recruit younger board members, but he noted that younger people have the desire, but may not have the means to take these positions.
“Members have to pay their own way to get to Israel, you have leave your family for a week every four months. It’s a strain on young people raising kids,” said Pearlstone.
For Pearlstone, including the youth and every other demographic represented within the Jewish community is essential for repeating the successes of Jewish agencies in the past.
“Collective responsibility is what fueled the Jewish communities in North American from the Yom Kippur War until after Exodus,” he said.
Pearlstone credits his commitment to the Jewish Agency to an affinity for Israel, to which he’s traveled several times each year for more than two decades. Although he will not be in Israel for its 70th anniversary, Pearlstone was there a decade ago for Israel’s 60th anniversary.
“It’s an unbelievable time to be in Israel on Independence Day,” he said. “If you want to go, it’s a great time to go.”
In the 1980s and early ’90s, Shoshana Cardin became the first woman to lead half-a-dozen Jewish organizations. Her titles included chair of the board of Associated Jewish Charities of Baltimore (now The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore), president of the Council of Jewish Federations, chair of the National Conference for Soviet Jewry and chair of the United Israel Appeal.
Cardin’s philanthropy continues into the 21st century. In 2003, she co-founded the Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish High School in Park Heights, which closed in 2013.
“My mother, in her prime, was a powerhouse,” said Cardin’s daughter Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, who spoke with the JT on her mother’s behalf. “Her influence was overwhelming in everything she did.”
During Cardin’s tenure as chair of the National Conference for Soviet Jewry, she met with Rudolf Kuznetzov, the emigration officer in the former USSR who was responsible for containing nearly 11,000 refuseniks. As a result of those negotiations, thousands of Soviet Jews were granted freedom.
“When we advocate for Soviet Jews to leave USSR, where do they go? My mother was a strong advocate for encouraging them to go to Israel,” said Nina Beth. “If they went elsewhere she was supportive of that, but she preferred that they go to the land of Israel because if they are getting out as Jews, they should live in the place that most fulfills Jewish living.”
In 2015, Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Pikesville opened a photographic exhibition sponsored by Limmud FSU and The Jerusalem Post to honor Cardin called “Let My People Go,” her tagline during the Free Soviet Jewry movement.
According to a report from eJewish Philanthropy, Cardin, who was 89 at the time of the exhibit, said at the reception, “The Soviet Union managed to keep Jews waiting. There was no real reason. They were hostages. It was a difficult time. We were faced with the problem of a dissolving Soviet Union, where nothing was centralized, and a huge group of people anxious yet unable to leave. We knew it had to happen. We knew that millions were waiting for us.”
Nina Beth, who is no stranger to advocacy and philanthropy herself, said her mother’s spirited connection to Israel can be traced back to her birth. “She was born in Palestine and has — beyond a love — an affinity for Israel. She somehow belongs to the land of Israel.”