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.
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“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).”


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