Years later, as a young rabbi, R’ Brous found herself drawn not only to those already invested in Jewish life, but also to the deeply disaffected, the folks who wouldn’t even walk in the door. She and her husband, David Light, began dreaming of ways to translate core Jewish ideas into practices that would be meaningful and compelling, especially for those alienated by conventional religion.
In 2004, R’ Brous met Melissa Balaban, a civil rights lawyer and assistant dean of the Law School at USC. She and her husband, Adam Wergeles, had been on their own journey of Jewish discovery, dissatisfied with the status quo and trying to determine how best to raise their two daughters with a sense of Jewish connectedness.
R’ Brous and Melissa realized that they shared a fierce belief that the prevalent alienation from organized religion—especially among young people—reflected not of a lack of spiritual hunger or desire for community, but a lack of resonance with religious institutions.
For years, they called their first meeting a shotgun wedding because of the sense of immediacy they all felt that night. IKAR was launched on a hope and a prayer, setting out with a small group of founders* to build a laboratory for bold, imaginative Jewish practice, and to integrate the quest for spiritual nourishment and personal meaning with the mandate to engage courageously—prophetically—in social change and justice work.
IKAR quickly became one of the fastest-growing and most influential Jewish communities in the country, and a model for inspiring Jews from the most marginalized to the most engaged.
“Teshuva in Liberia: Moving from ruin to reconciliation” written by Rabbi Brous for The Jewish Journal, gives great insight into our origin story. In 2017 we marked our 13th anniversary, our Bat Mitzvah, and we celebrated IKAR’s role in the renaissance taking place in the American Jewish community. In a time of unprecedented disaffection and declining affiliation, we have built a beautiful and inspiring davening culture at IKAR, led by our rabbis (Rabbi Ronit Tsadok officially joined us in 2012 as Associate Rabbi, Rabbi David Kasher joined our team as Associate Rabbi in 2018, and Rabbi Morris Panitz joined us in 2021 as Associate Rabbi), our Hazan Hillel Tigay, and our davening team. Our community members range from the deans of the LA-based rabbinical schools to the most marginalized and disconnected Jews and seekers of all backgrounds, people of strong faith and avowed atheists. And we’ve helped to build the Jewish Emergent Network, working toward a national Jewish revival by fueling creative, unconventional Jewish community endeavors.
And we’ve come to understand that our role extends beyond Jewish religious and spiritual practice, and indeed beyond the Jewish community. We are working every day to inspire people of faith to reclaim a moral and prophetic voice in counter-testimony to the small-minded extremism now prevalent in so many religious communities. We are working to develop a spiritual roadmap for soulful, multi-faith justice work in Los Angeles and around the country.
*Joshua Avedon, Stephanie Avedon, Melissa Balaban, Celia Bernstein, Rabbi Sharon Brous, Richard Foos, Shari Foos, Nan Friedman, Adam Gilad, Lynn Kilroy, Ross Levinson, David Light, Paulette Light, Rachel Light, Paula Mazur, Robert Mickelson, David N. Myers, Andrea Blaugrund Nevins, Yazmin Ibarlucea-Peebles, Mac Peebles, Amy Povich, Jeff Rake, Daniel Sokatch, Adam Wergeles