Earlier this week, I attended Shoshana Cardin’s funeral. She was a very important role model to me and so many others. Like so many of her fans, I loved her. She was kind and gentle, and yet as fierce and powerful as a lion when it came to saving lives and freeing people. The world is a much better place because she lived in it.
I will never forget the Soviet Jewry rally on the Mall — more than 250,000 people. I was young and a lowly “marshal” doing crowd control that day — and watching Shoshana soar. Jews from the former Soviet Union were freed. So many (1.2 million!) owe their freedom to her work, as well as that of Natan Sharansky and others who they inspired, worked with, and brought into the process.
Shoshana broke a glass ceiling for women in Jewish life. Like other women, I have walked on the shoulders of her hard work and battles. But her magic was not that she was a “one-man (or woman) band.” It was that she pulled people together and many worked collectively for progress.
I am glad our mutual friend Rabbi Danny Allen spoke at the funeral. Danny was my Hillel advisor in college at Emory. Today Danny has an acquired disability and uses a wheelchair. Because the congregation where the funeral was held is accessible, he was able to be on the bema and share very important wisdom and his devotion to Shoshana. That was very meaningful, and frankly seemed very natural. I wish it such a thing could be done naturally at all congregations. Accessibility and inclusion is so vital!
As legends and mentors like Shoshana pass, I recognize that I am no longer a “young leader.” At age 54, I am now at a point where it is important for me to take the lessons of my mentors and do even more mentoring of today’s newer leaders myself. It can feel weird because I still make mistakes and obviously don’t know all the answers. But Shoshana did not let the perfect be the enemy of the “good enough” – and we all can learn from her wisdom on that front.
At RespectAbility, our nonprofit fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, we have a fantastic program for young leaders. Each year we train more than 30 young leaders for careers in public service, nonprofit management and/or communications. Training the next generation is key to the future. Indeed, for Shoshana’s last wishes, she is asking for donations to go to JNF, which amongst other things, sponsors the successful “Special in Uniform” program for people with disabilities in the IDF, and to ACHARAI: The Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish Leadership Institute.
Today RespectAbility is moving to a new chapter. That chapter will be written by including many more volunteers. A major part of the work of every member of our staff will be to support volunteer committees who will move our work forward. We also have hired the extremely talented Debbie Fink to help us in empowering volunteers. Our tremendous board members also will be very involved with this effort. I really hope you will join us by volunteering with one of our projects or serving on one of our committees! Here is where you can sign up.
The impact of Shoshana Cardin reminds be that every person can make an impact — but that the more we bring people together, the stronger we all are.