Film Review: ‘Restoring Tomorrow’

Aaron Wolf grew up attending Los Angeles’ historic Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which was founded during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and has served as a vital place of worship and cultural center for the city’s Jewish community ever since. “Restoring Tomorrow,” however, isn’t merely a nonfiction celebration of that history, but a plea to keep it alive, given that in recent years, the synagogue’s membership dropped and the grand building itself began to crumble. The efforts to revitalize it — and, by extension, to keep its heritage alive — is the focus of Wolf’s assured documentary, which stirringly melds personal and communal perspectives on the value of religious traditions. It’s a niche offering worth seeking out when Fathom Events debuts it in nearly 1,000 theaters nationwide, for a single night on Nov. 13, following a far more limited release this October in New York.

“Restoring Tomorrow” begins with ominous snapshots of domestic and international holy sites that have fallen into disrepair, and equally melancholy camera pans across pews and podiums covered in cobwebs and plastic sheets, all set to Conor Jones’ mournful score. Those sights follow introductory text claims about young Americans’ diminishing interest in religion — an indifference that’s shared, at least initially, by Wolf, who in first-person monologues admits that he drifted away from Wilshire Boulevard Temple as he became an adult. With the venerable institution in desperate need of renewal, he returns to his hometown to document current rabbi Steve Leder’s campaign to raise funds for the renovation project, as well as to investigate his own connection to the faith (and place) in which he was raised.