Short film series explores the intersection of disability and prayer in the Jewish community
Los Angeles, April 9, 2021 – Rachel Rothstein, a fourth year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College who is hard of hearing, 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.
Rachel Rothstein is a fourth-year Rabbinical student at HUC who is hard of hearing. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, she decided to spread her wings and venture out west to study on the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College as a way to broaden her horizons and learn about Jewish communities different from where she grew up. Rothstein is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she studied Comparative Religion and Anthropology. She has always been fascinated by communities anchored by religion and is motivated to continue building community after she is ordained. In her free time, Rachel enjoys hiking, biking, swimming and taking advantage of the great outdoors, where she is less impacted by her severe hearing loss and can appreciate nature with 4 ½ of her senses.
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 Rachel Rothstein. Rachel is a fourth year rabbinical student at HUC. And I want to thank her for letting me interview her today. Do you pray?
Rachel Rothstein: Yeah, I pray.
Rosloff: Do you recite prayers that you have learned or memorized, or do you have personal prayers?
Rothstein: I do have a mixture of both. I read the prayers that are written in the siddur, and then I have prayers that come from my own heart.
Rosloff: Is your disability something you refer to in your prayers?
Rothstein: I think that my disability is so embedded in my life as a hard of hearing person I can’t help, but have it come up in my prayers. When I recite the words of Pesukei Dezimra in the morning prayers, I thank God for the daily miracles, and I think that it’s a miracle when my five senses are working as they should.
Rosloff: How does praying make you feel?
Rothstein: When I pray, it reminds me to be humble. Every time I pray, it’s a way of forcing myself to remember that it keeps me grounded.
Rosloff: What do you think the difference is between a wish and a prayer?
Rothstein: In that sense, a prayer encompasses this idea of intention and then action behind that. My words can only go so far, and then I have to do something, whereas a wish is like just something I put out into the universe, and hope that it sticks.
Rosloff: Do you think people with disabilities prayers are different than prayers of non-disabled people?
Rothstein: I think that everybody has a unique experience in this world, and if they pray from their hearts, then their prayers are gonna be unique. While people with disabilities might have different experiences in this world as compared to those who don’t have disabilities.
Rosloff: What do you pray for?
Rothstein: I think any moment of peace and wholeness that I can bring into my heart is a blessing.
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