Why did you become a rabbi?

Jewish life"Willi, he has religion"

"Somebody once told me that he once said somebody, oh Willi, he has - in English they say - he has religion, so for him it is somehow important in his life. Yes," says William Wolff.

We see a small, slim man in a suit and a hat, who is sitting on a mop of white hair. A boyish, mischievous smile appears underneath. Rabbi William Wolff:

"He is almost ninety years old, he is still the state rabbi of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania," says Britta Wauer. For her film "In Heaven under the Earth" about the Jewish cemetery in Berlin Wei├čensee, the director was looking for a rabbi who could talk about Jewish ideas about the afterlife and mourning rituals.

"And he immediately agreed and then came for the interview and not just as a rabbi, but came with a lot of wit and charm and humor and I also found a lot of acting talent for the shoot. At the first premiere, the audience actually asked Who is this man? Tell us more about him, and so it went on, "said Wauer.

Between yoga and fasting

Britta Wauer decided to dedicate a film of their own to Willi Wolff or Rabbi William Wolff. "He lives in a little house outside of London, all alone, he has no family of his own, has a lot of crazy hobbies, a huge circle of friends, does yoga to keep himself fit, goes on a fast once a year. Is somewhere every week somewhere else, commutes back and forth between England and Germany, on a basis like other people would get on the tram or train, he is on the plane and never has luggage with him, or only in exceptional cases. Actually he only carries loads of Plastic bags with newspapers and books with him because that's one of his great passions. "

Britta Wauer accompanied Willi Wolff in his everyday life for three years, which means she was out and about with him a lot: visiting his ultra-Orthodox relatives in Israel, visiting friends, the annual horse race in Ascot and, above all, the weekly trips from London to Germany in his communities in Mecklenburg Western Pomerania, where he has been the rabbi of the Jewish communities in Rostock and Schwerin since 2002. Both communities in which there were few members and hardly any Jewish traditions after the fall of the Wall.

"So where I was, there was absolutely nothing. Then came the Russian immigration and the Interior Ministry sent them here and there. There were 900 who came to Schwerin and 700 who came to Rostock and they had to start from scratch and then they had the feeling that a rabbi could help and then I was offered the job. "

Late acquaintance with liberal Judaism

Rabbi Wolff sees himself as a liberal rabbi, although he grew up in an Orthodox family. During the Nazi era, his family first emigrated to the Netherlands and later to England. There, as he says, he only got to know liberal Judaism relatively late. It was not until he was 50 that he decided to become a rabbi.

"I became a rabbi because I suddenly said to myself that you are actually a religious person after all. So go the way."

He looked back on a long and successful career as a journalist, as a department head at the Daily Mirror and as a political reporter from the House of Commons.

"Yes, yes, I had an access card for the English parliament for a total of 25 years," he says.

See the beautiful in the world

William Wolff is a person who you can tell that you trust God in the truest sense of the word. In how safe and secure he moves through the world. Who sees and enjoys the beautiful in the world. He understands religiosity as something that goes beyond the individual religions.

"But since I grew up in Judaism, I basically love it too, I stuck with it. But it was very clear to me, I couldn't become an Orthodox rabbi and it was a bit late that I got to know liberal Judaism and then one day I realized that maybe I could have a role. "

At first he looked after churches in England for over twenty years, but as a guest rabbi he was repeatedly invited to Germany.

Britta Wauer: "And when it became clear that in England you start to worry a little about your age, he was then in his early or mid-70s, he thought, then I'll go where you don't worry about my age makes, but is happy when they have me. "

English gentleman

The film says: "At first some people were suspicious, many expected a Jewish rabbi with a big beard, so to speak, and so on, and there was actually an English gentleman."

For 13 years he commuted back and forth between the small town of Henley-on-Thames and its communities in Schwerin and Rostock. He learned Russian for his community and with his ease and fascinating formulation skills, his knowledge and charm he represented it in public. But the main thing for him was the church work:

"The work as a rabbi consists of two things, that is the pastoral work and the ceremonial work, that is to lead the church services. They have to be understandable to people and I have to keep two things in mind for sermons. First, that they don't get too long and second that they don't get too boring. "

In 2015 the congregation appointed a successor for Rabbi Wolff, but his title of state rabbi of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania he still carries, and he continues to represent his congregations on important holidays.

In the film he speaks the blessing: "The boss says it's my turn, the words of blessing come, the closing words of blessing, a blessing that can basically only come from God and for which we humans only pray and ask can."