Short film series explores the intersection of disability and prayer in the Jewish community
Los Angeles, April 9, 2021 – Alex Howard, a talented filmmaker who lives with a rare mitochondrial disorder called MePAN, stars in his own segment of “What Do You Pray For?” The film was made by Ben Rosloff, a talented emerging filmmaker on the Autism spectrum who serves as a Jewish Inclusion Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program.
”What Do You Pray For?” is a series of short interviews of Jews with disabilities who tell viewers in their own words what they pray for and what prayer means to them. The project features Jews with various disabilities from across the United States, with a myriad of different connections to their Jewish identity.
The series focuses on the universal nature and themes of prayer, as well as the hopes and dreams of people with disabilities. The interviews reveal the need for inclusion and a connection to the community. All interviewees provided valuable insights on their disability experience, understanding it to be an integral part of themselves, presenting challenges and opportunities.
Alex Howard is a member of the National Disability Speakers Bureau at RespectAbility. Growing up in Los Angeles, Alex Howard visited various famous filming locations like the LA River in Northridge, where Arnold Schwarzenegger rode his motorcycle in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. That trip was a defining moment in his childhood, sparking his fascination with movies and the mind-bending stories they can tell. Howard earned a bachelor’s degree in Cinema and Television from California State University, Northridge in 2015. While in college, he was a brother of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. He has had several internships, including KTTV, Atmosphere Entertainment and Phoenix Pictures where he worked for producer Mike Medavoy. While interning, Howard fell in love with the development process. He believes the core of every good piece of entertainment is a solid, compelling and interesting story. Most recently, Howard was a temp for Warner Brothers on long-term assignment at DC Comics and a part-time film critic intern for mxdwn.com. This past summer, he was invited to participate in RespectAbility’s Summer 2020 Lab for Entertainment Professionals.
Growing up, Howard had a number of undiagnosed physical conditions that often left him feeling alone and a little different from his friends. He found some comfort in watching movies and television as a way to connect with others and reveal worlds full of inspiration. Recently, Howard was diagnosed with a rare mitochondrial disorder called MePAN. One of the most significant symptoms of MePAN is limited vision. Howard is proactive in finding ways to use technology to overcome his disabilities and is a passionate advocate of audio description for all media, everywhere. Howard’s ultimate goal is to help those with any kind of disability enjoy films and television so that, hopefully, more people will be able to connect and share a love for entertainment.
A transcript of the film is below:
Benjamin Rosloff: My name is Benjamin Rosloff, and I am a filmmaker, editor, and storyteller. And I am living with autism. There are different types of prayers; prayers that praise God, prayers that thank God, prayers that ask for forgiveness, and prayers that ask God for something. There are prayers that are memorized that we recite or sing to familiar melodies. Asking questions is how we learn about people’s hopes and dreams and what kind of world they want to live in.
Alex Howard: Hi. I’m Alex Howard, I went to CSUN for Cinema Television Arts, so I have a Bachelors and that. I was in the DC mailroom for year and a half, and now I’m a fellow with RespectAbility, and I have low vision because I have a rare mitochondrial disorder called MePAN, at this point, I’m one of 19 in the world. They keep finding more. Briefly there’s a big population MePAN patients in Israel, as well as in the US. There’s a lot of Jewish people that have MePAN.
Rosloff: Do you pray?
Howard: I usually pray on high holidays, and I pray when I go to the western wall, and I guess in a way pray when I hope to do well in a job interview.
Rosloff: Do you recite prayers that you have learned or memorized, or do you have personal prayers?
Howard: I guess for Jewish holidays, I recite the prayers that I memorized, but yeah usually it’s just a personal sort of “quick, like let me do while I’m on this interview” or something like that, but at the western wall, I think it was more life, family based.
Rosloff: How does praying make you feel?
Howard: In a way, it gives me hope that what I’m praying for will come true. But I think in a way, it’s helping maybe more optimistic for myself.
Rosloff: What do you think is different between a wish and a prayer?
Howard: My mom, I’ve been sick, she was hospitalized, because of something with her stomach that came up all of a sudden, and my dog had cancer, and I went on Birthright, and I went to the western wall, and it was just like me praying for them to get better, and you know for my family to have good health and all that. I guess prayers just a little bit more of a formal wish where you’re asking for God to help with something, and not just, you know, yourself.
Rosloff: What do you pray for?
Howard: I usually pray for my family’s health, or on high holidays, you know, maybe job interviews sometimes, but I think most dates, you know, for myself to do better.
Rosloff: Judaism encourages questions. It is how we learn, how we grow, and how we gain an understanding of ourselves, and our relationship to God.
The individuals featured in the “What Do You Pray For” series include:
- Erika Abbott: Writer / Award-Winning Poet
- Justin Borses: Former College Student and employee at Moorpark College
- Lee Chernotsky: Founder and CEO, ROSIES Foundation
- Samantha Elisofon: Award-Winning Actress (“Keep the Change”) and member of EPIC Players, A Neuro-inclusive Theater Company in Brooklyn
- Alex Howard: Entertainment Media and Jewish Inclusion Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program
- Matan Koch: Director of RespectAbility California and Jewish Leadership
- Amy Rosenfeld-Kass: Teacher from The Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School at the JCC
- Ben Rosloff: Communications and Jewish Inclusion Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program
- Rachel Rothstein: 4th year Rabbinical Student at the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion
- Barry Shore: Ambassador of Joy and Successful Serial Entrepreneur
- Ari Sloan: Member of EPIC Players who is living with Autism
- Joshua Steinberg: Program Associate for RespectAbility California and Jewish Leadership
- Brendan Stern: Assistant Professor of American politics and the Executive Director of the Center for Democracy in Deaf America at Gallaudet University
- Rabbi Lauren Tuchman: Rabbi, Public Speaker, Spiritual Leader and Educator
- Blair Webb: System Change Youth Advocate at MEET THE BIZ and former Jewish Inclusion Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program
- Aaron Wolf: Co-founder of Howling Wolf Productions and Award-winning Actor, Director, Speaker, and Activist
Rosloff, a filmmaker who is active in Jewish life and has been to Israel, grew up in Great Neck, NY and earned a BFA in Electronic Media from Long Island University. He has produced films for a variety of organizations, including his documentary short “Can I Call You?!” screened in the United States and Russia during an internship with Downtown Community Television Center. Rosloff also has co-produced, edited and screened multiple films for the United Nations. These include a film for World Autism Awareness Day, where Rosloff interviewed then-Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, as well as “#Envision 2030” for Disability Awareness Day. Rosloff currently is looking for a job in video production and/or editing. His LinkedIn is https://www.linkedin.com/in/benjamin-rosloff-95324011a. You can reach him via [email protected].
About RespectAbility: RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. Founded by members of the Jewish Funders Network, it is the world’s largest nonprofit one-stop-shop on Jewish disability inclusion. RespectAbility knows that people with disabilities and their families have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. www.respectability.org, www.respectability.org/resources/faith-inclusion