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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IKAR has identified “a lead donor” to back its plans, said Balaban, and raised initial seed money of some $500,000 in preparation for launching a major capital campaign. Its choice for a site has narrowed down to two possible properties, she said. And the L.A. firm Lehrer Architects is conducting feasibility studies of the properties to determine their suitability for all the activities IKAR envisions.

For some, this may convey a level of long-term planning and institutional seriousness previously unassociated with IKAR. But the congregation’s laid-back image was never the full story. Brous’s tousled hippie look and “whatever” spiritual approach has brought in hundreds of young unaffiliated Jews from the Boomer and Millennial generations. But the 39-year-old rebel is also a rebbe; one ordained at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary in 2001 who leads services conducted in Hebrew from the Conservative siddur.

Beyond L.A., Brous is known as an inspirational speaker and a returning Forward 50 honoree. IKAR — which means “essence” in Hebrew — stands alongside congregations such as New York’s B’nai Jeshurun and Kehilat Hadar as a leader in progressive, non-denominational Judaism.

Recently, Brous received a very public scolding from American-Israeli Rabbi Daniel Gordis for an emailed epistle to her flock during the recent Gaza conflict, in which she urged compassion for Palestinian children under fire, along with Israelis.

“I knew, even before reading Rabbi Brous’s missive,” Gordis wrote in the online newspaper, The Times of Israel, “that we Israelis are surrounded by enemies. When I finished reading her, though, I understood that matters are much worse than that.”

Gordis’s broadside provoked intense exchanges among a number of prominent Jews and occupied the cover of L.A.’s weekly Jewish Journal. Brous received plenty of plaudits along with a slew of “violent and inappropriate” hate mail, Balaban said.


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