Pinky Pie

Lior, prayer & Me

Posted on: February 12, 2010

Lior Liebling reading Hebrew in his play structure.

I “friended” Lior Liebling on Facebook Thursday but have not heard whether he will accept me.  I suspect he will, as his Facebook page says, “My name is Lior and I love life!”

He is also a movie star, the subject of a film called “Praying with Lior” that our synagogue movie group saw Wednesday night. Here’s the synopsis from the website for the movie (

An engrossing, wrenching and tender documentary film, PRAYING WITH LIOR introduces Lior Liebling, also called “the little rebbe.” Lior has Down syndrome, and has spent his entire life praying with utter abandon. Is he a “spiritual genius” as many around him say? Or simply the vessel that contains everyone’s unfulfilled wishes and expectations? Lior – whose name means “my light” – lost his mother at age six, and her words and spirit hover over the film. While everyone agrees Lior is closer to God, he’s also a burden, a best friend, an inspiration, and an embarrassment, depending on which family member is speaking.

As Lior approaches Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony, different characters provide a window into life spent “praying with Lior.” The movie poses difficult questions such as what is “disability” and who really talks to God? Told with intimacy and humor, PRAYING WITH LIOR is a family story, a triumph story, a grief story, a divinely-inspired story.

It was a very powerful movie that, as the summary said, raised questions about the potential and limitations of disability and about the value of prayers even if you may not understand the words.

Some thought the movie was contrived and questioned the motivation for it, but I thought it was inspiring. The family had its many challenges, including a younger sister who felt she was not getting the attention she deserves – something that is natural and common in a family when one child has exceptional needs. An older brother of Lior’s felt he should not go far away to college because he needed to be there for him. Everyone was torn, grieving for the loss of the mother.

Lior’s praying has been described as having the fervency of an “old Hassidic,” a reference to “a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality and joy through the popularisation of  Jewish mysticism as the fundamental aspects of the Jewish faith.”  You might recognize Jews as Hasidic because the men have full beards, wear dark clothing and hats.

Lior’s  family is not Hasidic, however, but part of Reconstructionist Judiasm, which blends traditional Judaism with the “insights and ideas of contemporary social, intellectual and spiritual life.” (

It was Lior’s mother’s desire that she live to see him go through his Bar Mitzvah. She did not. Sh died in 1997 of breast cancer.

The movie showed his excitement about the coming Bar Mitzvah, his absolutely astounding performance and the congregation’s emotions knowing his mother had dreamed of that day.

Lior has been described as “a spiritual savant.” The film showed him praying and almost performing an entire service on top of the play structure in his backyard, not the usual use for that equipment.

With both his parents rabbis, Hebrew songs and prayers are the air he breathes.

Lior does what I do not – pray. I don’t blame God or anyone else for my having cancer, nor do I ask for help from God, who I figure is busy mediating requests for free throws, field goals and other important things.

I am not religious or observant, but I absolutely am Jewish in my soul.  That may not make sense to someone of another religion.

What is Lior’s future? Will he hit a wall because he will discover he cannot do everything he thinks he can? I don’t know.

Asked if he had Down’s Syndrome, Lior said, “No I have up syndrome.”

I thought the movie was powerful demonstrating great potential in human beings, including those we think have so little. It was uplifting.


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