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

(page 3 of 4)

On the local scene, IKAR has earned praise for its social engagement programs. Last April, after a year and a half campaign, IKAR together with an interfaith coalition won a sweeping change in LAPD towing and impound policies that had targeted immigrants.

Charismatic Leader: Fans of IKAR’s musical leader Hillel Tigay have dubbed him the “Rock Cantor.”
Melissa Balaban
Charismatic Leader: Fans of IKAR’s musical leader Hillel Tigay have dubbed him the “Rock Cantor.”

IKAR’s congregation includes a mix of Los Angeleno movers and shakers, many from the worlds of finance and entertainment. Board members include David Nevins, president of entertainment for Showtime Networks, Michael Ellenberg, senior vice president at HBO, and Lynn Harris, executive vice president at Warner Bros. City Council member Eric Garcetti, who could become L.A.’s first Jewish mayor in the election this May, is a member of the congregation. IKAR has become a campaign stop for other politicos, including Garcetti’s two main opponents — Wendy Gruel, who is married to a Jew, and Jan Perry, potentially L.A.’s first Jewish female African American mayor.

The IKAR signature style of free-form Shabbat davening may obscure some of the congregation’s underlying seriousness. Accompanied by a fervent drum circle along with, often enough, a gaggle of kids (including Brous’s) running higgledy-piggledy around the minyan, IKAR services can seem a bit, well, meshuge.

“I must admit,” says a Yelp reviewer of IKAR’s Shabbat services, “that until I got used to the bongos, Grateful Dead-like background vocals and creatively interesting versions of what in my youth were brutally boring musical prayers, I was looking over my shoulder to see if Mike Wallace and the ‘60 Minutes’ crew was there documenting this possible cult-like occurrence.” The late reporter Wallace never dropped by IKAR, but a recent visit by this reporter confirmed the description.

Building a house of worship was not on the agenda when a group of Jews met with Brous in a Westside living room in 2004. She had arrived in L.A. two years earlier with her husband David Light, an aspiring screenwriter, and their two children (they now count three). The group, which included Balaban and her husband, were asking Brous’s help in forming a community of Jews turned off by institutional Judaism, who nonetheless sought a Jewish life for themselves and their families. From that moment, the growth has been phenomenal. Today, IKAR numbers more than 500 families and has more than 60 children in its pre-school program.

While the congregation includes older followers, IKAR is particularly popular with young adults who attract kindred spirits. “We built something we ourselves liked,” said Joshua Avedon, co-founder of Jumpstart, who was in his thirties when he became one of IKAR’s co-founders, “and it turns out all our friends do, too.”


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!
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • 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.