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  • Restoring Tomorrow
  • Directed by Aaron Wolf
  • Classification PG; 82 minutes

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At this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, one of the hottest tickets in town was not a gala screening or signature, cocktail-soaked after-party, but a pop-up synagogue. The first-ever “official High Holiday services of TIFF,” held at the Windsor Arms Hotel (naturally), was designed to help those balancing the demands of the film industry with the annual obligations of the Jewish High Holidays. While I wasn’t able to attend – because successfully navigating TIFF means abandoning any belief in an almighty power – the initiative did pull this cynical critic’s few remaining heartstrings. I’m far, so very far, from my days as a sabbath regular, but the annual ritual of sitting down (and then standing up) in a shul for hours on end is baked into my brain. Which is why it was such an odd sensation watching Restoring Tomorrow, Aaron Wolf’s touching, if by-the-books, documentary about the restoration of L.A.'s Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The film chronicles both the physical work of bringing a synagogue back to life, but also the building’s long emotional legacy (it opened in 1929) and place in the Hollywood community. Thanks to Wolf’s direct connection with the subject – his grandfather was the congregation’s rabbi for decades – the film is able to trade on both history and personal nostalgia, a potent mix for even the most lapsed of synagogue-goers. Wolf doesn’t seek cinematic or religious transcendence here, merely a brisk glance at the power of community and the impact of memory. It is a kind of dedicated, workman-like filmmaking that won’t answer any prayers, but might just guilt you into another High Holiday visit – so long as it doesn’t conflict with a film festival.

Restoring Tomorrow opens Oct. 12 in Toronto.

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