Venice Beach shul the focus of TV reality series

The film crew captured members of the Pacific Jewish Center (PJC) — known as The Shul on the Beach — praying during Friday night services. Except it wasn’t Friday night.

Because Jewish law forbids using electricity during Shabbat, the production company behind the reality television show, “Church Rescue,” had to settle for a reenactment last May when it spent three days shooting daily life at the Orthodox congregation in Venice.

The results of its work will air on Dec. 23 at 2 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.

The recently debuted reality series takes the model that was popularized by the series “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “Bar Rescue” – in which a charismatic personality transforms struggling homes and businesses – and applies it to places of worship.

The premise of the six-part series, which kicked off earlier this month, is simple. According to its Web site: “Running a church takes more than faith, and even the holiest of institutions can fall victim to harsh realities. Enter the ‘Church Hoppers’ – three business-savvy ministers who travel the country helping faith-based organizations reestablish themselves in the marketplace so they can continue the good word to their followers.”

The episode featuring PJC will serve as the series finale. It is titled “Shalom Improvement” (what else?).

The Orthodox community has seen highs and lows since its founding more than 60 years ago – from when it was a vibrant religious center that attracted Hollywood stars like Barbra Streisand and Elliott Gould, to when it could barely draw a minyan.

The “Church Rescue” crew spent several days there earlier this year, on the Venice Beach boardwalk that the shul calls home, building, painting, sanding, schmoozing and more. They replaced ceiling tiles, refurbishing the wood of the bimah, painted a mural inside the building and, beautified the children’s area.

Additionally, Orthodox reggae artist Matisyahu performed a beachside concert near the shul to wrap up the three-day shoot, according to Leslie Friedman PJC executive director.