Praying With Lior is a documentary about a 13 year old boy, Lior, who has Down syndrome. The documentary follows him in the months leading to his Bar Mitzvah. Lior's mother was instrumental in providing Lior with amazing faith and spirituality. There is a clip shown of Lior with his mother when he was just a few years old and his mother was asking him what song he wanted to sing. He shook his head "no" to all of the typical toddler songs, and gave a huge smile and began to sing along enthusiastically to a prayer. Sadly, his mother died when he was just 6 years old - but her influence on him gave way to a very strong religious faith and a passion for prayer.
As a talkative boy with a good sense of humor, Lior was often the center of attention within his family. He and his older brother had an extraordinarily close relationship. They show him watching Lior during his Bar Mitzvah with tears streaming down his face - a combination of pride, love and admiration. It is the type of relationship I hope my children will have. Then there is Lior's little sister who seems simply irritated by Lior's presence. You can sense that she resents having lived in his shadow. She also says that he embarrasses her. It was so sad, but also understandable.
Within his religious community, Lior was widely accepted - especially by the adults who enjoyed praying with him and had a sense that Lior was somehow closer to God than most. Within his school community, his acceptance was mixed. Some of his classmates were interviewed, most of whom mentioned that they respected Lior and that he was just as God meant for him to be. There was also a clip shown of Lior on the playground during recess where he asks a group of boys if he can play football with them. There is a discussion among the boys, some saying yes, others saying no. The ones arguing that he couldn't play because "he wasn't good at football" won. It broke my heart, but is a scenario I can imagine happening on playgrounds everywhere. At the end of the film, they show Lior going to a new school (high school, I presume). His parents are discussing their apprehension about sending him to a new school. Then they show Lior walking into a classroom with only kids with Down syndrome. I know inclusion is supposed to be the best learning environment, but I let out a sigh of relief when I saw his classmates. Something about it felt so comfortable and so safe. I was surprised at my reaction, but could not deny feeling better about Lior being with his peers with Down syndrome rather than typical peers. Food for thought, I guess.
Another thing that I've thought about many times since I saw the film was when Lior's father was describing Lior and said "he maybe retarded, but he's not stupid." I was shocked when he said this, mainly because I am so used to taking offense to the word retarded. But, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me. Some degree of mental retardation comes with the Down syndrome diagnosis. I can see that areas of Brennan's learning are slowed, but I also see that he is not stupid. He is a great imitator and a good problem solver and is always learning. I can't even count how many times I've told him how smart he is.
The movie evoked every emotion possible in me. Happiness at his relationship with his older brother, sadness at the relationship between him and his younger sister. Pride at the amazing job he did at his Bar Mitzvah after months of preparation. Excitement at the acceptance shown by his classmates, disappointment at the exclusion shown by his classmates. Overall, it was a fantastic documentary - one I highly recommend.