Short film series explores the intersection of disability and prayer in the Jewish community
Los Angeles, April 9, 2021 – Erika Abbott, a talented writer and award-winning poet who lives with epilepsy, stars in her 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.
Erika Abbott is a member of the National Disability’s Speakers Bureau at RespectAbility and an award-winning poet. She is a native of Manhattan and was raised in Montclair, NJ. She began her advocacy very early in life as the ringleader of the disabled posse, the small group of children that had varying disabilities at her school. Though she was young, Ms. Abbott perceived the absurdity and poignance of their challenges. Abbott was never picked first for any team sport, but if there had been a Reading Olympics, she certainly would have won!
Abbott is a recipient of the 2016 Bookvana.com Poetry award for her debut book, PORGY’S REVENGE, endorsed by Tom Hanks, who said that “These poems are from the soul, personal and particular. They are not from us, but speak of us….” Olympia Dukakis said that “PORGY’S REVENGE contains the unique writings of an extraordinary poet-a story-teller both in content and in style.”
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.
This is Erika Abbott, she’s an award-winning poet, and I want to thank you for letting me interview you for today. It’s really exciting. Do you pray?
Erika Abbott: I do. I’ve sort of gotten out of the habit, since all the temples are closed, but I do pray.
Rosloff: Do you recite prayers that you have learned or memorized, or do you have personal prayers?
Abbott: A little bit of both. I pray for peace, I pray for health.
Rosloff: So, how does praying make you feel?
Abbott: When it calms me, it’s really after… “Oh I was able to take that off my list.” I think when I get sort of frustrated, is when I can’t remember the words because I have epilepsy, which means that, even if I’ve prayed the day before, I won’t necessarily remember the words, because of the assault on my brain from the seizures that I’ve had.
Rosloff: So what do you think the difference is between a wish and a prayer?
Abbott: The wish is a dream your heart makes, and I think a prayer is really asking for either continued health or asking for peace.
Rosloff: Do you think people with disabilities prayers are different than prayers of non-disabled people?
Abbott: I do think when you’re fighting for your life, as we all are when we’re disabled, no matter what our disabilities are – that we’re thinking about — I don’t want to say bigger things, but just more complicated things.
Rosloff: What do you pray for?
Abbott: I certainly pray that I can see my family again, I pray for the continued health of my family and myself, and at this point, I’m really praying for the government.
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