In this week’s Shabbat Smile, Matan Koch, Director of Jewish Leadership at RespectAbility, and Benjamin Rosloff, a Jewish Inclusion Fellow in our National Leadership Program, talked about Ben’s new idea for a multimedia series, “What Do You Pray For?!”
The idea builds off of Ben’s work filming a young boy’s bar mitzvah a few years ago. He did not have speech, and was using an augmentative communication device, and Ben found himself thinking, was he hearing the bar mitzvah boy’s voice or the filtered thoughts that he had programmed in with his parents? He questioned himself: what did the boy really pray for?
Later, Ben went to Israel and saw people putting notes and prayers in the Western Wall, and went to the Ohel, where people pray and leave notes of prayers on the Rebbe’s tombstone. There were so many notes and stories. Ben wondered what messages and requests people were asking from G-d. He began to realize that whether it is an augmentative communication device, a prewritten speech or the natural filters that we put in place when talking to others, it isn’t always easy to determine what people really pray for. He felt it is even less likely for people with disabilities, whose voices are so often counted out.
Ben believes that the voices of the people shared in prayer were particularly important because honest prayer – where we are open about our hopes, dreams wishes and fears – would probably bring us together. Ben believes that true prayer involves universal truths about what people need and what we want in our lives.
As a person with autism, Ben and his family pray for acceptance. (The family part is important, because all families have wishes and dreams that we share regarding the people we love.). Acceptance does not mean someone just saying ‘hello’ to you at synagogue. It means that part of earning a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah should include not only “if,” but “how?” When a student with a disability wants to go to Hebrew school, yet needs to work at a different speed as an accommodation, that the Jewish educator works with the student instead of isolating the student with a tutor. It is good for Jews with disabilities to embrace our Jewish identity, but it is also important that the Jewish community sees those Jews as Jews who can fully participate in the community.
Additionally, Ben is also praying for a good job, a happy home, love, marriage and starting a family, and that the family should be happy and healthy. It was in reflecting on those prayers that it became especially clear that the things that Ben would pray for had tremendous, universal commonality with what others likely pray for, and indeed with what we all want.
Building from this, Ben suggested the notion that he would interview various Jews with disabilities to share what they pray for, and with the expectation that we would find commonality and shared humanity in those answers. This morphed into a project that will start there, and it will end up with a combination of video clips and longer answers, articles and other media, where people with disabilities share what they pray for and find the universal commonalities, that bring us together. This project starts with Ben asking the question, “what do you pray for?!” In this way we would see the universal commonalities between the shared hopes of Jews with all different types of disabilities.
So, as we’ve been doing this for the past couple of weeks, we close the Shabbat Smile with me asking something about you. Are you a Jew with a disability? Might you be willing to sit down with Ben, discuss what you pray for and find our shared aspirations? If so, email Joshua Steinberg, Program Associate for RespectAbility California and Jewish Leadership, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We close by wishing you Shabbat Shalom, and with the wish that whatever you pray for, you experience the acceptance envisioned by Ben and his prayer.
Thank you, and Shabbat Shalom,
Matan Koch and Benjamin Rosloff