“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).”