- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

Life for preteen Lior Liebling, the real-life subject of Ilana Trachtman’s “Praying With Lior,” seems rather complicated. In addition to all the issues of self-esteem and acceptance that youngsters his age must face, he has Down syndrome and lost his mother to breast cancer when he was just 6.

Faith, on the other hand, is a much simpler matter for him. Born to rabbis Mordechai Liebling and the late Devora Bartnoff, the youngster davens, or prays, with reckless abandon and sings spiritual songs at the top of his lungs. He inspires others at his Philadelphia-based religious school and synagogue to raise their voices in praise, too.

“If there is a God,” says his big brother, Yoni, “then Lior’s definitely closer to God than anyone I know.”

But is he really, or is prayer just something that Lior uses to earn attention and praise in his close-knit religious community? Is a disability that many would consider a curse really a calling card to the higher power, or is religion merely a fun hobby or a game of mimicry for the youngster?

The answers to these questions never fully materialize in Miss Trachtman’s film, nor does any bigger-picture context — although the absences don’t much diminish the documentary’s impact.

As we observe Lior in the tense months leading up to his bar mitzvah (can he really do it?) it becomes clear that in religion, he has found something that makes absolute sense to him and makes his heart sing.

The joy Lior gets from his spiritual practice is a testament to the patience, tolerance and understanding of both his family and the community at large.

“Praying With Lior” is very much about faith — about believing in God, yes, but even more about believing in people, whatever handicaps and challenges they might face.

The film isn’t a glitzy, high-budget flick. Some have argued it has a home-movie feel to it — a claim bolstered by Miss Trachtman’s sometimes inane questions asked from off-camera. Luckily, Lior’s instantly likable personality and charisma provide a distraction from any production or editing shortcomings.

As Miss Trachtman’s first independent feature film (her background is in TV), “Praying With Lior” gets her off to a nice start. It already has won several awards (including the audience award for best documentary at the 2007 Washington Jewish Film Festival) and is likely to win a few hearts in theaters as well.

***

TITLE: “Praying With Lior”

RATING: Not rated (Some difficult themes and personal loss)

CREDITS: Directed by Ilana Trachtman.

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

WEB SITE: www.prayingwithlior.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STAR

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