A Jewish community getting to work

In the wake of the last week’s tragic attack in Pittsburgh, Aaron Wolf’s new documentary, ‘Restoring Tomorrow,’ is more than an ode to a glorious place of worship: it’s a call for humanity to unify.

DIRECTOR AARON WOLF seen in a still from 'Restoring Tomorrow' (photo credit: Courtesy)
DIRECTOR AARON WOLF seen in a still from 'Restoring Tomorrow'
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In some ways, what happened in Pittsburgh epitomizes both the best and worst of America: a country suffering unspeakable tragedy, but comprised of a people who strive to unify in its aftermath.
Rabbi Steve Leder of Los Angeles’ Wilshire Boulevard Temple saw both of these aspects this past week when a lone act of violence attempted to destroy a community, only to find that an entire country rallied behind it to ensure it emerged stronger than before.
On Friday night, some 1,000 people attended Shabbat services as part of the American Jewish Committee’s #ShowUpForShabbat campaign, which called on people of all faiths to come to synagogues across the country as an act of solidarity with the Jewish people.
Through prayer and song, Christians, Muslims and Jews were unified in one voice against hatred.
“The Jewish community has seen prejudice and persecution before. But here in LA and across the US, we answer with unity and love – knowing our diversity is our strength and out of many, we are one,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who attended the services and is Jewish, posted on Facebook.
WOLF SPEAKING to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. (Courtesy)WOLF SPEAKING to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. (Courtesy)
For Leder, it was an uplifting moment in a harrowing week.
“This is so reassuring to me to what I know to be true about America. Much like when friends show up at your home for shiva, it restored my faith in all that’s good,” he said.
Leder is one of the subjects of the new documentary Restoring Tomorrow, which, ostensibly, is a story about the reconstruction of his temple – the oldest in Southern California.
However, at its heart, the film is really about the importance of community unity, reaching out to those different from yourself and reinforcing the Jewish link in the chain so generations to come will be proud of their heritage.
It’s also a very personal story for director Aaron Wolf, whose grandfather Alfred was Leder’s predecessor.
“When it happened, I immediately turned the news off,” Wolf said of his reaction when he heard of last week’s attack.
“I didn’t want to look at it. I wanted to go back to sleep and hope it was a nightmare. After a while, I thought, ‘What would my grandfather do?’ He would get to work,” he said.
Get to work, he did.
Wolf began working on filming a panel discussion that will be shown immediately after the documentary which will showcase Leder and other religious leaders who will discuss how communities can heal after such a tragic event.
Wolf hopes that the documentary, which will be released by Fathom Events in a one-night only special on November 13, will  convey “our message of hope and people feeling good and coming together out there.”
A portion of proceeds from the film will be donated to the Pittsburgh victims’ charity of choice – the Victims of Terror Fund – and Wolf is asking that viewers use the film as an opportunity to foster more inter-group understanding.
“Wherever people are when they see the film, we want them to send us pictures of them with their family and with their community. We’re going to get rid of the state lines in the United States and just have this collage of pictures from all over the country. I’m calling it the ‘collage of community,’” he said, envisioning the movie as offering a moment of reprieve for those who will be exhausted by the post-election fallout.
“This is about us as a United States, a community, coming together and rising above the hate and honoring the victims and their families and showing the country that it’s not just a march or a vigil it’s a collage of hope for what the US represented when my grandfather came here and what I hope it will represent for generations to come,” he said.
The last thing Wolf wants is for the film to be relegated to the dustbin of movie history and for this tragic incident to be just another mass shooting headline.
“This tragedy happened as our film is coming out around the nation, so I felt it was my duty to make it about healing. The film is out and it’s about feeling good and feeling hope that when you’re a part of a community that you’re going to go make the world a better place and feel good about it,” he said.
RABBI STEVE LEDER of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple speaks to Restoring Tomorrow director, Aaron Wolf. (Courtesy)RABBI STEVE LEDER of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple speaks to Restoring Tomorrow director, Aaron Wolf. (Courtesy)
Leder, too, believes much strength can be derived from adversity. As the author of the book, More Beautiful Than Before: How Suffering Transforms Us, he appreciates firsthand what the Jewish community has gained from such a traumatic event.
Although Leder is quick to point out that he does not idealize suffering or glorify it, even while shrouded in the deepest darkness, a glimmer of light can be found.
“The Jewish community has been unified in a way it has not been since the election of Barack Obama,” he said. “I say to anyone who attempts to tear us apart: All you will do is bring us closer together.”
Bringing people together is exactly what happens underneath the temple’s impressive dome.
Restoring Tomorrow is a love letter to the shul that has meant so much to not only its Jewish residents but to downtown LA in general. By reaching out to other faiths and helping them in times of need, the temple’s humanitarian footprint can’t be ignored.
“Built into the DNA of the temple is the fact that the temple has always attracted many of the great Jewish civic leaders of Los Angeles. It was founded by the great families that founded many other great secular institutions of Los Angeles,” Leder said, who explained that today, its social services department provides health care, legal aid and food relief to local non-Jewish residents, many of whom fall below the poverty line.
Many of those non-Jews who felt the benevolence of that congregation decided to #ShowUpForShabbat themselves and continue the circle of tolerance, empathy and solidarity – the very sentiment Wilshire Boulevard Temple was founded on nearly 90 years ago.
“Someone once said to me many years ago when I was under stress to renovate the campus, ‘Steve, the core of every good city rots, and the core of every great city regenerates. You’re doing the right thing, keep going,’” Leder recalled.
With Restoring Tomorrow, viewers can see regeneration of a cultural landmark that has meant so much to many and will continue to be a beacon of hope in the years to come.
To order tickets for Restoring Tomorrow, visit here.