Havurah Interview: Rabbi Michael Robert Wolf
We interviewed Rabbi Wolf about this film – a film which could not have been made 40 years ago! Here is the full interview. You can learn more about the movie at www.soundofthespiritbackstory.com. You can also order the film at store.jewsforjesus.org.
Havurah: Tell us something about yourself.
Michael Robert Wolf: I was raised in a Conservative Jewish home. I came to know the Messiah in 1971, and have led Beth Messiah Congregation in Cincinnati since 1977, 36 years this October. I am on the Executive Committee of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, and administrate the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues conference and correspondence Yeshiva.
Havurah: What was the genesis of the idea for making The Sound of the Spirit?
MRW: I have developed a habit of writing on my day off (I have written other scripts, a musical, and a Destiny Image novel that way), and I always revisit the impact and ironies associated with the fully Jewish message the Messiah brings to our world through real and genuine people. I begin with prayer and start the creative process of story telling, using the “three-act” design to often express the poignancy of the Messianic Jewish experience. In this case, I imagined what would happen if, upon losing her last remaining parent, a Messianic Jewish pre-teen went to live with her traditional Jewish relatives.
Havurah: Can you tell us who the intended audience is?
MRW: This film carries universal themes, so the audience is broad. But different people have different reactions. Christians love learning about the Jewish and Messianic experience, and the victory the protagonist finds in God. Traditional Jewish audiences find stereotypes challenged and resonate with the Jewish and spiritual sincerity of the young Messianic Jew, Rivka. Messianic Jews are thrilled to see “our story” told in a narrative film for the first time.
Havurah: How about the goals – what do you hope to accomplish through this film?
MRW: I want The Sound of the Spirit to push down walls and open hearts, to shift old paradigms about our Messianic faith, and to build bridges of understanding.
Havurah: What kind of responses have you received?
MRW: Christians tend to express how much they learned and how they have an increased heart for the Jewish people and community. The number one question Christians have for we Messianic Jews is “What did your family think when you told them you believe in Jesus?” This movie speaks to that question.
Messianic Jews identify totally with Rivka’s experience. One second generation Messianic Jew, a rabbi, told me after viewing it, “This is exactly the kind of experience I had with my non-believing relatives when I was growing up.”.
Non-Yeshua-believing Jewish people are often left speechless and in tears. No traditional Jew has watched the movie all the way through and not responded very positively (from Orthodox through Reform), though there are a couple of responses on the internet that claim the film is anti-Jewish. But I have no evidence that they watched more than clips or part of the film, and they may be anti-missionaries.
How much did the film cost to produce? How did you raise the money?
The Sound of the Spirit cost $170,000.00 through post-production. The funds were raised through a 501C3 by donors who believed in the project.
Where has it been shown and with what results?
We have screened the film in about 20 theater venues around the US. It’s also widely available as a DVD, a Blu-ray disc, and as a digital download, and has sold thousands of copies. It is or will soon be available at Jews For Jesus’ online store. It has also aired twice on the Daystar network and once on God TV. And it sells at various national Bible book store chains.
The response has been extremely enthusiastic, and the film has a 9 out of 10 rating on Internet Movie Database right now, which is about as high a rating as you can get. The reviews from places like Charismamag.com and Movieguide.org have also generally been very favorable
How did you go about casting the parts? Were all the actors Jewish?
Mostly we used professional casting agents. My producer, Guy Camara of Kingdom Pictures, did a lot of video auditioning. But we also asked some talented actors we knew to audition. Some actors were Jewish, such as the synagogue president (Stan Solomon), Uncle Sydney (Rob Weidenfeld), and Aunt Jackie (Faith Yesner). But others were not, such as the extremely gifted Anna Lasbury, who played Rivka. We were grateful to find her. The bar and bat mitzvah teacher, Jim Dougherty, was also not Jewish, and looked the farthest thing from it … very Irish. But he was so talented that we cast him, and trusted the make-up department to do the rest. When they got finished with him, he looked like a cousin of mine! He also learned all that Hebrew, as did Anna.
What is the “message” of the movie? Or is there a particular message other than getting people to maybe think differently than before they saw it?
The Sound of the Spirit carries a few different messages. Certainly it speaks to overcoming adversity. But chief among the messages it sends is the Jewishness of Yeshua, of His message, and of those Jews who put their faith in Him.
Obviously, the “sound of the Spirit” and the references to Elijah are a significant part of the movie as well as being its title. Why that title? What were you trying to convey by the idea of the “sound of the Spirit”?
I was emphasizing the potential presence of the God of Israel in our lives by His Spirit, and the personal nature of our relationship with Him. As Yeshua said, “My sheep hear My voice”.
Undoubtedly conversations will ensue after people view the movie. I know some Jewish people, actually some family members, who would see the ending and think, OK this movie is about how we should all get along, no matter what you believe and as long as you’re happy. For people who respond that way, what are some talking points you could suggest to move the conversation beyond that?
Yes, certainly traditional Jewish people who have seen the film have liked the fact that everyone gets along in the end. But I would say that this movie is about something deeper than that. It’s about how the heart of the true Yeshua and real Messianic Jews is reflected in the verses Rivka quotes from 1 Corinthians 13. And it’s about how fully Jewish Paul’s message in that chapter is, the same message conveyed in the verses from Leviticus 19 heard in the beginning of the film. Discussion could certainly include how Yeshua displayed that love here on Earth. It is my heart that people be exposed to the real Yeshua and not the distorted one that people can sometimes perceive.
Have you or do you have plans to produce any sort of discussion guide to accompany showings?
Though we don’t have hand-out discussion guides at this point, we do have a website (www.soundofthespiritbackstory.com) where people can find out about the making of the movie, read about my spiritual journey, find out about Messianic Judaism, purchase the movie from one of various outlets, read my blog, ask questions, etc.
How can people obtain a copy of the film for showing? Can you suggest good venues where non-Yeshua-believing Jewish people can view it?
The best way to introduce non-Yeshua-believing Jewish people to The Sound of the Spirit is through providing a DVD, providing an iTunes or Amazon Instant Video link (it’s free to stream for Amazon Prime members), or by inviting them over to watch it. If it’s screened in a particular city, they can be invited to the screening. Usually, the Messianic Times will announce those screenings in advance online and on their Facebook page. If anyone wants to screen the film in their city, there is no cost for that. And a Blu-ray combo pack is widely available for those who want to screen it in HD quality (The movie is a Bridgestone Multimedia Group product, and so is very available in both DVD and Blu-ray). I have even traveled to some cities to answer questions as the writer-director, although I can’t do that as often as I’d like.
You can also order the film at store.jewsforjesus.org. For further information, visit the film website.