Aaron Wolf grew up attending the historic Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. It had special meaning because his grandfather was one of the senior rabbis, filling the giant footsteps of Rabbi Edgar Magnin, the “rabbi to the stars.” That Hollywood connection is just one reason this saga is so compelling. The movie moguls of yore may not have been highly observant Jews but they cared about their reputations. Louis B. Mayer was an intimate of Magnin’s who helped fund the construction of the temple, while the Warner Bros. provided set designer Hugo Ballin to create massive murals perched just under the dome to impress worshippers below. They seemed solid from a distance but turn out to be facades—just like movie sets.
We learn all of this as Wolf embarks on a personal journey to understand why he drifted from his faith…and how he was drawn back to the synagogue to chronicle its restoration, not just as an edifice but as an active community center in what is now Koreatown.
Years in the making, this straightforward documentary has resonance far beyond the boundaries of Los Angeles. It’s startling, and discouraging, to learn how many classical synagogues have been abandoned in major cities around the world.
Using archival footage, eyewitness accounts, interviews with the synagogue’s forward-thinking leader Rabbi Steven Leder, and his own experiences, Wolf presents a moving tale of faith and determination. The presentation is not ethereal but practical, showing what hard work and unbridled optimism can achieve. In a time of cynicism and divisiveness, I found Restoring Tomorrow to be genuinely inspiring.