Judy Kent Patkin ’57: Benjamin Mays Medal
The highest award presented by the Bates College Alumni Association, the Benjamin Elijah Mays Medal is presented to an alumnus or alumna who has performed distinguished service to the larger worldwide community and has been deemed a Bates College graduate of outstanding accomplishment.
Presented by Roland Davis ’92, president of the Alumni Association.
On behalf of the Alumni Association, it is my honor to bestow the Benjamin Mays Medal upon Judy Kent Patkin, Class of 1957.
Today, social justice causes and issues get a publicity boost from the Internet and Facebook. But in the 1970s in the Boston area, Judy was putting miles on her car and using phones and faxes to educate Americans about the brutal oppression of Jews within the Soviet Union, half a world away.
At that time, few Americans had any idea about the plight of Soviet Jews. Judy recalls the time that she and her fellow activists arrived in Concord, Massachusetts, to protest the appearance of Soviet dancers. The locals, all playing nicey-nice, were mightily annoyed. But Judy and her fellow activists persevered. That’s what activists do.
And she is still going strong today. As co-founder and now executive director of Action for Post-Soviet Jewry, Judy oversees a network of program coordinators in 44 communities throughout the former Soviet Union.
Throughout the course of her travels, she has learned not to underestimate the power of even small contributions.
Originally founded as Action for Soviet Jewry, the group sought to bring attention to the “refuseniks” — Soviet Jews and others who wanted to leave the Soviet Union but were refused permission. Today, Judy leads Action for Post-Soviet Jewry in its efforts to serve elderly and handicapped Jewish pensioners in Russian and other former Soviet republics.
Each year, Judy travels to Eastern Europe to meet these clients and guide the work of several community outreach programs, including Action’s flagship “Adopt-a-Bubbe” program. (That’s “grandmother” for you non-Yiddish-speakers.)
The feel-good name belies the serious hardships faced by elderly Jewish women and men in the former Soviet Union. Skyrocketing inflation has reduced the value of their pensions and left many impoverished or on the verge of poverty.
Judy’s work connects this vulnerable population with food, resources and a sense of community. Throughout the course of her travels, she has learned not to underestimate the power of even small contributions.
Judy, your efforts over the last 40-plus years powerfully exemplify the mission of Bates College and this institution’s explicitly stated “commitment to responsible stewardship of the wider world.” Your service in support of the Jews of the former Soviet Union inspires us all to live our lives with more compassion, more global awareness, and a greater sense of engagement with those around us. It is in this spirit that I am honored to present to you the Benjamin Elijah Mays Medal.