I watched the most heartwarming film a girl could ask to see on her birthday: Praying with Lior, a documentary about a young boy with Down Syndrome preparing for his bar mitzvah. Lior Liebling davens with such joy and dedication that others in his synagogue––adult congregants––are often in awe of him. But his father, who is a rabbi, wisely says at one point that he worries that others will project too much onto Lior. “He’s not a rebbe, he’s just a kid.” (Something to that effect.) And while I don’t like the idea of equating disability or difference with spiritual elevation, I do think that in the case of Lior, his older brother (and “best friend”) was correct when he said, “If anyone is close to G-d, Lior is.”
Here is Lior’s confirmation speech, which he gave when he finished his formal Jewish education (some editing done):
“Shabbat Shalom, I am very happy to be here today.
“I am happy that I get to be confirmed. Being Jewish is important to me because that is the way I stay connected to God. Davening is the way I stay connected to God. As I said at my bar mitzvah, I love davening because I feel happy and excited. It makes a difference to pray because I feel different when I talk to God. When I do not talk to God I feel lonely. If I talk to God, I feel happy and I can enjoy myself. Sometimes I use words from the prayer book. Other times I use my own words. There are so many things to be grateful for. I am thankful for my family and for the things I have in my life.
“I enjoy the holidays because we get to celebrate and to sing a lot. I especially like Sukkoth because of eating in the sukkah and the celebration of Simhat Torah….
“This week is the parsha of bersheit. It is the parsha about the creation of the world. We learn that everyone is created in God’s image. That makes everybody equal — even if we have different beliefs. There are different religions. There are Jews, Christians Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others. Muslims, for example, celebrate Ramadan. Christians celebrate Christmas. Jews celebrate our own holidays. We can appreciate each other’s holidays. My family even went with Buddhists to celebrate the Dali Lama’s birthday when we were in India. We have different beliefs and religions, and we are all equal. We can all speak to God in different ways.
“Everybody is created in God’s image. Each person has different abilities and talents that we offer the world. We each have our own blessings that we bring to the community. I bring to Mishkan my love, drumming, enthusiasm for davening, talking to people and being friendly. I hope to bring these to Mishkan for many more years.”