Built in part by the studio moguls of early Hollywood and nearing its 90th anniversary, the Wilshire Boulevard Temple gets a starring role in writer-director Aaron Wolf’s earnest, moving and sometimes funny documentary “Restoring Tomorrow.”
Part historical document, part home movie, Wolf’s film chronicles both the temple’s remarkable $150-million restoration and his own spiritual return to a place where he attended Sunday school and his grandfather served as senior rabbi. Using archival materials, new interviews and commentary Wolf creates an engaging tale of urban renewal. (Wilshire Boulevard Temple is credited as an executive producer.)
The temple, founded in 1862 as Congregation B’nai B’rith, provides the filmmaker with a rich history intertwined with that of Los Angeles. Wolf effectively contextualizes the temple’s revitalization with the fate of less fortunate churches and synagogues around the world.
As the Wilshire congregation’s families migrated to the suburbs in the late 20th century, the temple built a second campus, in West L.A.. Six years later, Senior Rabbi Steve Leder sensed an opportunity in the original location and rather than sell, persuaded the board to make a bold investment, highlighted by the main sanctuary’s reopening in 2013.
A bit slick, especially in its last half hour, “Restoring Tomorrow” nevertheless hits its emotional marks in reporting the renaissance of an important community institution, and Wolf’s personal connection to the subject elevates what may have simply been a well-made promotional film.
Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes