Lior’s Gift

It would be selfish — and quite frankly, unfair — for a person to demand from Lior a great degree of spiritual nourishment on the basis that he prays zealously. The documentary’s stance and the best response is to celebrate Lior’s gift and to show an appreciation of how that gift betters the life that would otherwise include many tests and trials. Therefore, the Bar Mitzvah ceremony for Lior at the documentary’s climax is not just a rite but a statement of the ability to triumph in the face of adversity.

Ultimately, Lior’s reason for davening is not to offer a standard level or set of expectations for individuals living with down syndrome, but rather to show that the monolithic perspective is fundamentally flawed. The documentary suggests that everybody can benefit from perceiving each life, no matter one’s ability as a teachable moment.

Special features of the documentary include an informative extra to the film’s already well thought out presentation of a family with a disabled member. They include valuable bonus scenes, deleted scenes from the documentary, and a list of educational items.

Being a Special Needs Sibling is one of the bonus scenes, profiling kids living in the Scarsdale sib-connection program. This short bonus scene extends the feature documentary’s concern for those sisters and brothers that feel left out because their special needs sibling demands, or being shown more attention. The additional resources also include follow up interviews of four years later, which shows the situation of the family when Lior is seventeen years old. These interviews are quite revealing since they allow the family members to express how their lives have changed and how their attitudes have changed since the documentary was first filmed.

In the interviews, Trachtman does something that is not often seen by allowing her characters to react to the documentary on the camera and how they are represented within it. Mordechai looks back in disbelief at his low expectation of what Lior’s life would be as a teenager, and Lior’s sister, Anna is no longer frustrated by her brother. In addition, Lior’s self-advocacy and advancement seem to be the careful result of watching himself in the documentary and coming to the understanding of what it means to have down syndrome from the documentary.

All in all Praying with Lior is an interesting documentary. It allows one to see through the lens of a person living with a disability, and the lives of those around him. It compels you to reexamine the views you might hold about people living with a disability. But Praying with Lior is not about coping with a disability challenge, it is also a story of triumphing in the face of adversity.…

Lior’s Admirable Character and Spiritual View

Admirably, the documentary avoids the disability film’s cliche of forcefully assuming a position on the central character’s behalf. Rather than speaking on behalf of Lior, he lets him speak for himself, both as part of the documentary’s general view and literary. During various parts of the documentary, Lior even seems to be the director, a role he charmingly relishes. The interviews with the young man where we can hear questions being asked are more spontaneous than other interview parts of the documentary.

So, on one hand, Trachtman gives up formal consistency, but on the other hand, she gains production transparency. Because the audience would likely not understand Lior if Editor Zelda Greenstein and Director Trachtman excised his questions and cut together his answers, they leave both the answers and questions in the final version. Lior’s answers are sometimes cryptic, often insightful, and a more effective gateway into his mind than any attempt by a filmmaker to speak on his behalf.

While this unfiltered approach is effective in character self-presentation, it sometimes sporadically raises ethical concerns. The camera captures Lior with a dirty nose more than once, and at one point his sister comments on it. The camera pushes in to capture the dirty nose, and only after the evidence of a dirty nose is captured is Lior handed a tissue by a family member.

This is one of the many scenes that is captured due to a lack of tasteful intervention from the camera operator or director. In one of the scenes, Lior is captured allowing Akiva, his dog, to carry his shoe into the woods. Later on, when Lior needs his shoe and cannot trace it, he demands that his dog show him where he took it. Akiva advances towards Lior and barks, and it is clear that the young boy is scared. His fearful body language and repeated screams of no should tell the crew that their character is frightened, or actually in danger, yet instead of responding to the imminent danger, they continue filming the documentary.

In the majority of the scenes that Lior plays alone, removing him from his community depicts Lior as a curiosity and works against the positive image the audience had of him. Also, a young boy with Lior’s condition is not a person that could safely spend a lot of time alone, so the decision to remove Lior from the community just to make a movie scene more interesting raises ethical questions. However such ethical concerns are rare in the documentary and it maintains an empowering and straightforward image of Lior and his community.

Finally, although the film’s title is Praying with Lior, and there is close attention to Lior’s davening devotion, Trachtman steers clear of apotheosis, something that would be tempting for a mediocre filmmaker. The director carefully honors Lior’s admirable spiritual view while realistically exploring its impact and origin.

The filmmaker strikes the correct balance between the sometimes overestimated view by members of the synagogue for example, of Lior’s spirituality with Mordechai expressing that Lior is not a conscious spiritual teacher. Therefore for the audience of the documentary and for people in Lior’s life, the message should be encouraged by the force of life represented by Lior, but also not to unconsciously depend on the symbol that we exploit the life of the individual carrying it.

Post written by Jar James, a social media influencer and prolific writer. His work can be found online on various websites such as TMZ, Good Financial Cents, and Credit Glory.

Lior “The Little Rebbe”

Praying with Lior is Ilana Tratchman’s groundbreaking film that addresses ongoing misstatements and misunderstandings about the disabled. Following the tradition of My Flesh and Blood and Best Boy, Tratchman’s documentary centers around a family that caters to the needs of a young boy with down syndrome. The boy, Lior, is the son of rabbis Mordechai Liebling and Devora Bartnoff. He is the center of attention at the Mishkan Shalom spiritual community and at home.

Due to Lior’s apparent spiritual devotion, he earned the nickname the little rebbe. As depicted by Lior as a young boy, Lior prefers to pray (daven) than anything else including singing children’s songs. From his mother’s lap, he is educated on the traditions that would become the foundations for his contributions to the world.

As the film begins, we learn of the passing of Lior’s mother Devora Bartnoff when he was only 6 years old. The documentary narrates how Devora’s death impacts her children, Anna, Yoni, and Reena, as well as her life partner Mordechai. However, there is a link between Devora’s absence and Lior’s dedication to tradition and ritual. Apparently, Lior has inherited much of Devora’s spirit. Tratchman realizes the intensity of this bond and brings it to light in a variety of means throughout the documentary.

A voice-over track includes Devora’s article, Praying with Lior that informs the documentary’s quest to explore the spirituality of Lior. The documentary also intersperses home film footage of Devora Bartnoff, weaving her presence into the text, creating a character that is very much alive and present.

The documentary’s structure is somewhat scattershot, using Verite footage and interviews to cover some episodes in the Leibling family’s life. Some discussions of the documentary centers around its lack of any major controversies or onscreen conflicts. Although the audience does not witness any trying or particularly bad day in the life of the film’s characters, there is something affirming and invigorating in the embrace of the mundane struggles of the family.

The main development covered by Tratchman is the preparation of Lior for his role as Bar Mitzvah. People around Lior are concerned about him and are thrilled to offer him guidance during this stage of his life and to help him understand its significance. The majority of characters are unveiled refreshingly during discussions about the role of Lior in their lives.

Father Mordechai Liebling expresses his fear that his son does not yet comprehend what it means to have down syndrome. He fears that the Bar Mitzvah Lior’s highest point in life will be followed by the disappointing discovery that he is different. Meanwhile, Anna, Lior’s younger sister expresses her embarrassment of Lior’s condition sometimes, and frustration at the attention he receives from everyone. Short interviews with his classmates show their patience with him, their understanding of Lior’s condition, and admiration for his davening devotion. Although they are simply reciting their parents’ reminders of how to treat Lior properly, it is apparent that the reminders have become impactful and influenced them to treat Lior with respect.…