In 2004, when Rabbi Sharon Brous launched IKAR as a unique spiritual community within the sprawling landscape of conventional Los Angeles Jewry, she was hailed as a bold and charismatic leader who maybe had figured out how to attract and hold younger, unaffiliated Jews. But there was no telling whether her experiment, like so many others, would crumble under the weight of its lofty intentions.
Now, eight years later, IKAR is thriving so profoundly that its leaders are planning to build what they call “a living laboratory for 21st-century Jewish life” — a center that will include sacred space, an art studio, a music lab, a library and a café with kosher, organic food. Brous, 38, is in demand as a speaker across the country, and IKAR’s equally charismatic hazzan, Hillel Tigay, has just released another album inspired by the unique weekly service he and Brous lead before hundreds of rapt congregants.
The nondenominational synagogue mixes traditional text study with a singular blend of spiritual preaching and a heightened awareness of broad political and social issues. As it planned its own nursery school, IKAR partnered with Jewish Heart for Africa to raise funds for
an Israeli-made solar power system for a school in a small Ugandan village. The lights went on in August. “Some of what we have learned over the past decade is that for new Jewish communal efforts to be successful, we have to be willing to go out — both physically and spiritually — to meet people where they are,” Brous wrote recently in Sh’ma. She is practicing what she preaches.