Short film series explores the intersection of disability and prayer in the Jewish community
Los Angeles, May 17, 2021 – Matan Koch, the Director of RespectAbility California and Jewish Leadership in RespectAbility who is a wheelchair user, 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.
Matan Koch is the Director of RespectAbility California and Jewish Leader of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. A longtime national leader in disability advocacy and a wheelchair user himself, he leads Project Moses, RespectAbility’s Los Angeles-based Jewish leadership project, and is also on the front lines in many other areas of RespectAbility’s work, including disability inclusion in philanthropy and nonprofits, Jewish outreach and impact, leadership, legal affairs and our continuing Los Angeles expansion. Koch is also a member of RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau.
Koch is a longtime leader in disability advocacy, and was a Senate confirmed Obama appointee to the National Council on Disability, for a term that ended in 2014. An inclusion expert, he has developed training and materials for many Jewish organizations, including Hillel International, the Union for Reform Judaism and Combined Jewish Philanthropies. He has also spoken and taught at law firms, and at Johnson & Johnson. He recently finished a 4-year term on the Advisory Council of Jewish Vocational Services in Boston, as their disability subject matter expert.
A graduate of Yale College and the Harvard Law School, Koch began his legal career as counsel to the Procter & Gamble Company, where he rose to become the primary legal support for a $2 billion portfolio of brands. He then transitioned to an AmLaw 100 Law Firm in New York, where he worked on a broad range of high-value commercial litigation matters and was privileged to do pro bono work in the areas of criminal appeals and guardianship. For his commercial work, Koch was recognized as a “Rising Star” by New York SuperLawyers in 2012 and 2013, a distinction allotted to the top 2.5% of New York metro area lawyers, based on peer recognition and professional achievement. For his pro bono work, Koch was awarded the Legal Aid Society Outstanding Pro Bono Services for 2013, based on a victory at the highest court of New York.
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.
Hello, this is Matan Koch. He’s a director of RespectAbility California and the Jewish Leadership, and I want to thank you for letting me interview you today.
Matan Koch: No, I want to thank you for interviewing me today.
Rosloff: Do you pray?
Koch: I do.
Rosloff: Do you recite prayers that you have learned or memorized, or do you have personal prayers?
Koch: It’s a mixture of both. Sometimes that expresses the ideas and the thoughts that I want to express, but sometimes, my prayers are more freeform than expressive thoughts for which there is no established text.
Rosloff: Is your disability something you refer to in your prayers?
Koch: I don’t specifically pray about my disability, but my disability is a fundamental part of who I am. When I’m praying for a good day or a good outcome, that won’t include things unrelated to my disability, like good food or people being nice or nice weather, and it won’t include things related to my disability like that my wheelchair should continue to work properly or my caregivers will show up when I need them.
Rosloff: How does praying make you feel?
Koch: I would say that it’s not about praying making me feel a particular way, it’s that different emotions evoke or are involved with different prayers. The one exception, the one place where prayer is the precursor to the feeling is sometimes when I’m in a large group for our setting, everyone has joined intentionality with music, or words, manage can evoke of feeling of something larger than myself of a collective will for a better world.
Rosloff: Do you think people with disabilities prayers are different than prayers of non-disabled people?
Koch: I believe that everyone’s prayers are different based on the totality of their lives, but I believe that the facet of having disabilities is just one part of who we are. It just happens that the challenges that you and I have been labelled by the world as a disability, and other people’s challenges have not, and so I think we all incorporate our challenges into our prayers, but it’s just so there’s nothing fundamentally different about the prayers that those of us that have been identified as having a disability.
Rosloff: What do you pray for?
Koch: I pray that people find compassion and joy and working together, there’s an interesting concept and that I hold by that says to bring about the world that we want, we work together, so I often pray that people come together to bring about a better world.
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
- Ariella Barker: Attorney, Policy Advisor and Communications Specialist
- 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
- Dr. 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