The sanctuary is the star, from pews that slope toward the bimah as if in a movie theater to the murals that stretch across its walls to massive stained-glass windows and a 100-foot dome, a breathtaking sight for visitors and longtime members.
The supporting actors of this 76-minute documentary, which will screen twice at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, are the congregants and clergy who talk passionately about Wilshire Boulevard (founded in 1864 as Congregation B’nai B’rith) and its role in the growth of Los Angeles.
“Restoring Tomorrow” was a homecoming of sorts for filmmaker Aaron Wolf, who grew up at Wilshire Boulevard as the grandson of Rabbi Alfred Wolf, who served the congregation for 36 years.
The condition of the aging (finished in 1929) structure lapsed as congregants moved farther west in the California metropolis, a migration that led Wilshire Boulevard to build a campus to serve that population.
A decision was needed on the fate of the building at the intersection of Wilshire and Hobart.
Should it be sold, in which case it likely would be torn down? Or was maintaining a presence in an ethnically diverse part of Los Angeles, one experiencing an influx of younger Jewish families, worth an investment of more than $150 million?
Rabbi Steve Leder told the congregation board that if Wilshire Boulevard removed its roots from the neighborhood, it also would need a new senior rabbi.
The film shows how, by restoring the luster of its sanctuary, Wilshire Boulevard planted new roots for its future by expanding the facility to better serve congregants and, as importantly, the neighborhood it calls home.