Los Angeles, July 2 – Benjamin Rosloff, a talented filmmaker on the Autism spectrum who served as a Jewish Inclusion Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program, has created an unprecedented short documentary film that is a compilation of his one-on-one interviews with Jews with disabilities. The short film features deep insights and fabulous emotions as people answer the very personal question, “What do you pray for?”
“What Do You Pray For?” is both a short documentary film and mini-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 short film 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 participants had valuable insights on their disability experience, understanding it to be an integral part of themselves, presenting challenges and opportunities.
The series was first pitched during the rise of COVID-19 as synagogues were closed and people were in quarantine. Filming began in late 2020 via Zoom. The mini-series videos and the short film are available now on RespectAbility’s website and other social networks. Individual videos in the series also are being featured weekly in RespectAbility’s newsletter, Jewish Disability Perspectives. The newsletter contains perspectives, insights, and important disability inclusion events from across the Jewish world. If you would like to receive this weekly resource, fill out this web form.
Rosloff plans to create a full-length feature film focusing on people with disabilities from an assortment of religions. RespectAbility will also be hosting a release event for the short film this summer.
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 G-d, prayers that thank G-d, prayers that ask for forgiveness, and prayers that ask G-d for something. There are prayers that are memorized that we recite or sing to familiar melodies. They make us feel good and bring back positive memories. Judaism encourages questions. It is how we learn, how we grow and how we gain an understanding of ourselves, our community and our relationship to G-d. Asking questions is how we learn about people’s hopes and dreams and what kind of world they want to live in. Let’s ask the question and listen to their answers. Do you pray?
Lee Chernotsky: I do pray. Not as often as I used to, but I still pray.
Alex Howard: I guess I — in a way — pray when I like hope to do well in a job interview.
Rabbi Lauren Tuchman: I have a prayer practice. I use a traditional Jewish prayer book.
Benjamin Rosloff: Do you recite prayers that you have learned or memorized, or do you have personal prayers?
Amy Rosenfeld: I have personal prayers and I also attend Zoom services on Shabbat at through my synagogue.
Aaron Wolf: My grandfather was a Rabbi, so, a lot of the prayer that he talked about – there were the traditional prayers, and then there was the personal prayer, and the silent prayer.
Samantha Elisofon: When I do my workout routinely activities like on a daily basis, it’s always personal stuff.
Joshua Steinberg: I recite prayers that I’ve memorized or that I’ve learned.
Benjamin Rosloff: Is your disability something you refer to in your prayers?
Aaron Wolf: I have ADHD and dyslexia – learning disabilities. It’s more abstract, how I refer to them. It’s more things that might be happening in my life that are in some way a result of the disabilities.
Matan Koch: I don’t specifically pray about my disability, but my disability is a fundamental part of who I am.
Barry Shore: I was in the hospital, completely totally paralyzed. And I was like that for many years. But now I understand that this is a gift that was given to me to enable me to have a closer relationship with the creator of the world, with my family, friends and myself.
Benjamin Rosloff: How does praying make you feel?
Alex Howard: In a way, it gives me hope that what I’m praying for will come true.
Samantha Elisofon: It makes me feel really soothed and relaxed. Like, personally prayers – what I do in my daily routinely practices, it just makes me feel so relaxed.
Blair Webb: Sometimes more stressed out, because you never know when or if the prayer will come true.
Benjamin Rosloff: What do you think the difference is between a wish and a prayer?
Joshua Steinberg: I think that prayer is usually referred to as a religious experience, whereas a wish is just something that you ask for or that you hope for.
Rachel Rothstein: A prayer encompasses this idea of intention and then action behind that, whereas a wish is like just something I put out into the universe, and hope that it sticks.
Erika Abbott: A wish is a dream your heart makes, and I think a prayer is really asking for either continued health or asking for peace.
Benjamin Rosloff: Do you think people with disabilities’s prayers are different than prayers of non-disabled people?
Lee Chernotsky: No, I think everybody’s prayers need to be heard, and should be heard, and if they’re not, someone’s got to figure out a way to make it more accessible.
Ariella Barker: In general, people pray for the same things. And that’s to be loved and accepted, to be able to have purpose in life.
Ari Sloan: I guess when people are disabled, who are disabled are praying that – I can pray for different things than people who are not disabled.
Justin Borses: I think everybody looks for love, I think everybody looks for acceptance. I think for people like us it might be harder to achieve in some areas, so we might either pray more or we might look towards other people for help. But I think the basic fundamental human rights and rights that we all want are generally the same thing, which is to be on an even playing field and enjoy the same things that other people can enjoy.
Barry Shore: I’ve been in both situations. I was 55 years old before I became completely paralyzed for a number of years, so I have the perspective of both. And there’s really no difference between how one approaches the idea of prayer relating to the creator, whether you are fully abled or less so.
Benjamin Rosloff: What do you pray for?
Ariella Barker: I pray for continued health, happiness, and the ability to have purpose, and the ability to fulfill the mitzvot.
Ari Sloan: Well I‘m just praying for the food that I have, the food G-d gives me. And I pray for a place to live. A lot of days I pray for my friends and family.
Alex Howard: I usually pray for my family’s health or on high holidays. You know, maybe job interviews sometimes, but I think mostly, you know, for myself to do better.
Justin Borses: I want to continue to do well in my career, you know, with broadcasting. I want to continue to make waves in that department. And I want to be able to, you know, start seeing people again. I think a lot of people, regardless of what religion you practice, have been praying that the pandemic ends.
Matan Koch: I often pray that people come together to bring about a better world.
Blair Webb: I have prayed for people’s health, social justice, racial justice and more love in the world.
Erika Abbott: I certainly pray that I can see my family again.
Joshua Steinberg: I pray to have good days. I pray to be happy, productive and to continue to grow as a person.
Rabbi Lauren Tuchman: I pray for a greater understanding between people and less prejudice in the world and – just really, I pray for minds and hearts to be open 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.
Samantha Elisofon: I’m praying for this pandemic to end – the sooner, the better. I’m praying for us all to eventually get vaccinated with COVID-19.
Amy Rosenfeld: I pray for better days to come later on in ’21.
Aaron Wolf: I pray for me to look in my heart, my soul and find my way in this world and in this situation.
Lee Chernotsky: I pray for the ability to be present in moments that matter.
Rachel Rothstein: I think any moment of peace and wholeness that I can bring into my heart is a blessing.
Barry Shore: I pray for the revelation, that all beings fulfill their potential and live-in joy, happiness, peace and love.
Benjamin Rosloff: In the end, I learned that people with disabilities really do not pray differently than people who are non-disabled. Nobody that I questioned prayed to be non-disabled. Instead, they prayed to have the strength, patience and courage to deal with their challenges. They prayed to stay positive and for understanding from others. They prayed for the ability to overcome obstacles in their way so that they could lead full and successful lives. They prayed for peace, health and happiness, for the pandemic to end, and to be reunited with their friends and family, co-workers and community. I pray for those same things too. I think we all do! What do you pray for?
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
- 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
“I am grateful for the opportunity to use my talent to share these insights from talented Jews with disabilities,” says Rosloff. “I look forward to more professional opportunities to continue telling people stories as a video producer, editor, and filmmaker.”
Says Matan Koch, Director of Jewish Leadership at RespectAbility, “I was truly amazed and gratified when Ben, as a Fellow who was working on our communications team at the time, took the initiative to offer this wonderful idea. I hope that this insight into the thoughts and dreams of individuals with disabilities will highlight that we are talented members of the Jewish community just like anyone else.”
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].
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