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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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.”


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