IKAR Looks To Build Without Losing Magic

Famously Progressive Los Angeles Shul Struggles With Growth

Surging: IKAR’s blend of joyful music and progressive politics is led by Rabbi Sharon Brous (with kiddush cup on right) and Hazan Hillel Tigay, playing guitar during 
havdallah after Yom Kippur services in 2011.
Melissa Balaban
Surging: IKAR’s blend of joyful music and progressive politics is led by Rabbi Sharon Brous (with kiddush cup on right) and Hazan Hillel Tigay, playing guitar during havdallah after Yom Kippur services in 2011.

By Rex Weiner

Published December 30, 2012, issue of January 04, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

“Who can ignore that little science experiment you call IKAR?” says Rabbi David Wolpe in an online video “roast” of one of Los Angeles’ most un-orthodox Jewish congregations and its sometimes controversial rabbi, Sharon Brous. “It’s like Mike and Ike, compared to our crème brûlée.”

Wolpe, chief rabbi of Temple Sinai, a grand synagogue on upscale Wilshire Boulevard, was poking good-natured fun at the funky and folksy — but rapidly growing — phenomenon that is IKAR. In the video (scripted as a Purim prank by IKAR’s own in-house comedy writers), he goes on to gibe at Brous’s casual hairstyle and IKAR’s lack of a building of its own.

Brous is sticking with her hairdo. But IKAR, the famously anti-institutional spiritual community she founded with a handful of families eight years ago in a member’s living room, is now moving in some ways toward becoming a traditional institution more like Temple Sinai. Most notably, IKAR, whose members have worshipped for years in a rented auditorium, is planning to purchase a building of its own.

The move reflects the reality of a community that is today a powerful—and in some quarters, envied — force in L.A. Jewish life. But it’s not just the prospect of meeting mortgages, maintenance budgets and insurance costs that portends a seismic change for a congregation more used to flying by the seat of its pants. IKAR’S vision of that building, if it comes to fruition, will all but revolutionize American Jewry’s concept of what a synagogue is or can be.

In an email to the Forward, the congregation’s executive director and co-founder, Melissa Balaban, described “a dynamic center of Jewish engagement” that will “accommodate a wide range of uses including sacred space, open art studio space, a music lab, a library/beit midrash/beit café, outdoor gathering and garden space [and] a learning center (for children and adults).”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.