Aviva Miriam Patt has been a fighter for justice since her early teens. Born on Shabbat Bereshit, she was inspired by the words of the Haftorah portion which was the subject of her Bat Mitzvah D’var: “I A-do-nai have called you in righteousness.” A year later, when she joined hundreds of her classmates at Mather High School to walk out of class for the first moratorium against the war in Vietnam, she decided to become a political activist. The following year Aviva volunteered in a local election campaign and for more than 50 years since, has been an active participant in campaigns and organizations advocating for social and economic justice and open, honest government. 

Professionally, Aviva worked in management positions in the private industry for 20 years. In 2001 she established herself as a consultant providing administrative services to small businesses and nonprofits. In 2008, Aviva became the Executive Director of the Decalogue Society of Lawyers, the oldest Jewish bar association in the United States. This was a perfect match for Aviva, who grew up in a Labor-Zionist family that had taught her that Judaism and social justice were inextricably linked. At first, she was just happy to have a position that didn’t require her to use her vacation days to observe Jewish holidays or endlessly explain that Chanukah is not Jews’ Christmas. But her attachment grew as she became more involved in Decalogue’s advocacy of religious accommodation for Sabbath and High Holy day observance in schools and workplaces – including the court system – and building coalitions with other bar associations of religious and ethnic minorities to combat antisemitism and other forms of prejudice and hate.

One day while going through Decalogue’s mail, Aviva opened a newsletter sent by the Jewish Prisoners’ Assistance Foundation (the Hinda Institute predecessor) and learned about Rabbi Binyomin Scheiman’s work to ensure that Jewish inmates in Illinois’ correctional institutions had access to kosher food and religious books. Prisoners’ rights and religious freedom being two issues Aviva had long advocated, she sent a small donation and eagerly read the newsletters as they arrived. 

In 2013, Decalogue created a new award to be given at their annual Dinner. The Hon. Gerald C. Bender Humanitarian Award, honoring a recently deceased past president of Decalogue, was to be “presented to one whose excellence and dedication demonstrates commitment to strive for justice by service to the community… who recognizes that the cause of justice is humanity’s job.” Discussion of possible honorees went on for weeks, as Decalogue struggled to find someone who could meet the standard of Judge Bender’s compassion and personal involvement in helping others. After relating an occasion when Judge Bender literally gave the coat off his back – and his hat and his gloves – to a homeless person one bitter winter day, the awards committee wondered if there was anyone who could qualify for what was coming to be described as the "Tzaddik Award.” That’s when Aviva said “I know someone who does” and told them about Rabbi Scheiman’s work. Rabbi Scheiman became the first recipient of the award, which has only been given three times since. 

Later in 2013, Rabbi Scheiman was a panelist for Decalogue’s legal lecture on prisoners’ rights and in the following years Decalogue and the Hinda Institute have partnered on several legal lectures. In 2018, Decalogue’s Social Action Committee decided to have a Chanukah Toy Drive and the members delighted in helping to brighten the holiday for the children of Hinda’s clients. The Toy Drive has since become a regular Decalogue mitzvah project. Aviva is pleased to have brought together two organizations that are close to her heart and is humbled to be honored for her efforts.