by Sissy Block
Last night was the first film of the New Shul’s summer film festival, Praying with Lior, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. In short, the movie is about a boy with Down’s Syndrome who has a gift for prayer as he prepares for his Bar Mitzvah.
The New Shul had a great turn out for the pre-show wine and cheese, set up on a bench in front of the Museum – about 50 yards from an NYPD squad car. I showed up in the middle of a informal group discussion about last week’s New York magazine cover story: "What's a Nice Jewish Girl Like This Doing Fighting the Hasids for Her Baby."
To me, the article read like a combination of “Aren’t The Orthodox Crazy” propaganda and that JLO movie “Enough” where the woman escapes from an abusive husband and then keeps frustratingly making poor choices that get her into deeper trouble – like showing up late right before Shabbat to make the kid exchange with her ex-husband. Oy!
Both sides of this story give Judaism, particularly Orthodox Judaism, a bad name.
Then we got into the movie, Praying with Lior, and see the brighter side of Orthodoxy – in the words and actions of the Nice Jewish Boys who are Lior’s classmates at the Orthodox Jewish day school he has attended since kindergarten. They talk fondly of Lior: compare him to “a baseball player who has to try harder to hit a home run,” admire him for “not goofing off in class like the rest of them,” and say “his Down’s Syndrome is a test from God for us in how we treat him.”
And these boys pass that test admirably. They include him in games on the playground, they let him hug them when he’s feeling “huggy,” and they create a safe place for Lior to grow into the man he wanted to be as he arrived at his Bar Mitzvah day.