Short film series explores the intersection of disability and prayer in the Jewish community
Los Angeles, April 9, 2021 – Rabbi Lauren Tuchman, a sought-after speaker, spiritual leader and educator who lives with blindness, 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.
Rabbi Lauren Tuchman is a member of the National Disability Speakers Bureau at RespectAbility and a sought-after speaker, spiritual leader and educator. Ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary in 2018, she has taught at numerous synagogues and other Jewish venues throughout North America. She was named to the Jewish Week’s under 36 for her innovative leadership concerning inclusion of Jews with disabilities in all aspects of Jewish life. In 2017, she delivered an ELI Talk entitled “We All Were At Sinai: The Transformative Power of Inclusive Torah.” She has trained and continues to teach with Rabbi David Jaffe and the Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project, which provides a space for Jewish spiritual and contemplative practice for individuals involved in social change work. She is a participant in the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s Clergy Leadership Program. In 2020, she was honored by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA).
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.
Hi, this is Rabbi Lauren Tuchman, and I want to thank you for letting me interview you today.
Rabbi Lauren Tuchman: Yeah, absolutely, it’s my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Rosloff: Do you pray?
Tuchman: I do. I have a prayer practice. I use a traditional Jewish prayer book.
Rosloff: Do you recite prayers that you have learned or memorized, or do you have personal prayers?
Tuchman: I do recite the traditional prayers, it makes me feel connected to our ancestors, and to the generations that came before us. I also certainly have personal prayers as well.
Rosloff: Is your disability something you refer to in your prayers?
Tuchman: Not frequently. I’m thinking about, you know, one of the larger things that I pray for, and one of those things is a world where there is less stigma and prejudice against blind people specifically and people with disabilities in general.
Rosloff: How does praying make you feel?
Tuchman: You know I would say that there are a lot of different emotions that come along with prayer; one of the emotions is I feel connected. I feel connected to other people, and connected to God, and connected to previous generations, and I would say that one of the things that really helps me get there is music. Music is a really important part of my prayer life, and when I can use music as a way of praying, I feel a lot of feelings of joy and happiness.
Rosloff: Do you think people with disabilities prayers are different than prayers of non-disabled people?
Tuchman: We’re such a diverse community of people, that the way that we pray and what we pray for is going to be as diverse as it would be for people who don’t have disabilities.
Rosloff: What do you pray for?
Tuchman: A world where we all are able to thrive, and what I mean by that is that we feel supported to be our best selves. I pray for a greater understanding between people, and less prejudice in the world, and just really pray for minds and hearts to be opened to different people. And I think we are living in a time where that’s harder and harder to do, but I think it’s more important than ever.
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 Benjamin.Rosloff@gmail.com.
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