Melissa Balaban
Founder/CEO
Melissa Balaban was IKAR’s founding board chair and has been Executive Director/CEO since 2007. In 2004, Melissa and her husband were searching for a Jewish community that would enrich the lives of their entire family and draw on Jewish tradition to engage the world in a meaningful way. Ultimately their search led to a serendipitous meeting with the immensely talented Rabbi Sharon Brous and an inspiring group of people, who came together to form IKAR, a leading edge Jewish community that fuses tradition, imagination, activism and spiritual practice. Melissa works closely with Rabbi Brous, the board and staff to guide the overall vision and strategic direction of IKAR. Prior to joining IKAR professionally, Melissa was Assistant Dean at the University of Southern California Law School. Previously, she was Directing Attorney of Public Counsel’s Child Care Law Project, a senior consultant (and now board member) for a national human resources consulting firm, and an adjunct professor at Loyola Marymount MBA program. Melissa is a graduate of UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California Law School. She was the 2017 recipient of the Trailblazer Award from NewGround, a Muslim Jewish partnership for change and the Outstanding Professional Achievement award in 2017 from the Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California. Melissa is married to Adam Wergeles, a lawyer, and has two daughters with whom she took a family “sabbatical” in 2007 that included six and a half months of travel and volunteering in Africa, Southeast Asia and Israel. She now has the rare pleasure of blending her life’s passion with her profession, even though she’s still shocked to be a professional Jew.
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Rebecca Berger
Senior Director of Education
Rebecca oversees IKAR’s Children’s and Family programming, including Bite Size Shabbat, the Early Childhood Center, Limudim, Little Mensches Justice Events and  Teens. She works closely with our incredible education teams – Dr. Jane Rosen, Beth Weisman, and Jenny Weston at the ECC, and Tamara Joseph and Alex Brooks for Limudim and Teens – to accompany our children and families on their Jewish journeys.   As an IKAR member for over 15 years with her husband Stephen, Rebecca is thrilled to bring her experience and passion as an educator to her beloved IKAR community. Rebecca earned her Master of Arts in Jewish Education at Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion and is an alumna and mentor in the DeLeT program, a Jewish teacher credentialing program for Jewish day school teachers. Rebecca participated in the Institute for Experiential Jewish Education Senior Educators Cohort and the Mandel Educational Leadership Program. Before IKAR, she was the Assistant Educational Director and Judaic Studies teacher at Sinai Akiba Academy. When Rebecca isn’t teaching, she loves hiking, playing violin, reading, Israeli dancing, and hanging with her daughters, Maya and Samara.
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Vera Blossom
Podcast and Video Coordinator
Vera Blossom was born by the Pacific ocean, forged in the desert, and now lives in Chicago. Although she lives far away, she considers the West Coast her mother country. In her free time, she allegedly writes books.
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Alex Brooks
Education Administrative Assistant
Born and raised in the Los Angeles area, Alex spent his childhood involved in schooling and youth programs at Temple Beth El in San Pedro. He is currently attending Cal State Fullerton pursuing a degree in psychology. Outside of school and work, he has a passion for sports, music and enjoys spending time outdoors. He is looking forward to building positive relationships within the IKAR and Limudim communities.
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Susan Brooks
Director of HR and Operations
Susan has lived most of her life in the Los Angeles area. She and her husband Bill have five children and six grandchildren (so far), and numerous surrogate children after years of being the team mom and mentor. Susan’s family currently has two Congolese children living with them, one a college student and one an activist and artist. Susan has a Bachelor’s degree from Pepperdine University and a Master’s of Education from The University of Texas. As a consummate volunteer and advocate, Susan has worked on global issues with Jewish World Watch and in the area of justice reform with Mom’s of Black Boys United for Social Change. Susan is very excited to be working in the non-profit world after decades of volunteering and thrilled to sync her passion for social justice with her business experience as a part of IKAR.
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Ben Cooley
Director of Communications and Content
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Malik Daniels
Operations Assistant
Malik Daniels is an accomplished operations assistant with a diverse background in inventory management, team leadership, social media management, and photo studio operations. Previously, Malik served as an inventory manager at Hastings, and assistant manager at Cinemark. His dedication to customer satisfaction and commitment to delivering high-quality services earned him praise from both customers and colleagues. Malik holds a bachelor’s degree from Santa Fe University of Art and Design and is a motivated professional who thrives in fast-paced environments. With his exceptional organizational abilities, strong communication skills, and a passion for driving operational excellence, Malik is elated to have joined the IKAR family.
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Elad Dvash-Banks
Chief Advancement Officer
Elad was born in Tel Aviv, Israel and has always been passionate about new cultures, places, and languages. In 2010 he decided to ditch the sun and the beach and move to Toronto, Canada. Elad, his husband Andrew and their twin boys Aiden and Ethan ultimately headed back to the sun, though, to start the next chapter in their life in L.A. Elad holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Tel Aviv University and a Master of Global Affairs from the University of Toronto. His career has taken him from working with students in the Jewish non-profit sector to working in an international organization developing strategies and building stakeholder relations to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Elad is excited to go back to the Jewish non-profit sector and to help grow IKAR.
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Alix Fischer
Capital Campaign Manager
Alix Fischer, a native Angeleno, has navigated a diverse career path driven by her passion for community service and being of service. From fundraising to event management, hospitality, and talent booking, Alix’s journey reflects her commitment to fostering connections and meaningful experiences within her beloved city. She is thrilled to be moving to the Jewish non-profit space, joining the vibrant community at IKAR alongside her partner, Jonathan. As members of IKAR, they look forward to sharing in the joys of Jewish life and deepening their connections within the community. Alix is excited to embark on this new chapter and contribute to the enriching tapestry of Jewish life in Los Angeles. Outside of work, Alix enjoys live music, cooking, romcoms, trying new restaurants, and listening to vinyl records from her and Jonathan’s collection.
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Tamara Joseph
Assistant Director of Education
Tamara brings a multifaceted approach to her role, blending her deep connection to the Jewish community with a commitment to inclusive education. With twelve years immersed in Jewish education, Tamara’s journey reflects a dedication to both early childhood development and teen programming. Tamara holds a master’s degree in early childhood education from American Jewish University and a bachelor’s degree in child and adolescent development. Her work in early childhood education provided a foundation for her passion for guiding educators and fostering a love for learning in children. In addition to her work with young learners, Tamara is deeply involved in building and running the teen programming at IKAR. Her innovative approach ensures that teens are engaged, empowered, and provided with opportunities for growth within the Jewish community. Tamara’s commitment to inclusive education is evident in all aspects of her work. She is a fervent advocate for anti-bias education, striving to create environments where all students feel valued and represented. Her leadership while working with teens and within Limudim exemplifies her dedication to shaping meaningful educational experiences. With her blend of expertise in early childhood education, teen programming, and commitment to anti-bias education, Tamara strives to embody IKAR’s mission to create a vibrant and inclusive learning community.
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Susan Ledgerwood
Development Manager
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Ilyse Pallenberg
Director of Events and Production
After a successful 20 year career in entertainment marketing where Ilyse led high profile print and digital campaigns for Netflix, Disney, Amazon, Hulu, and Warner Bros, she decided to find her purpose beyond getting people to watch television. Through her son, she met an IKARite that also was part of the same Hang.Out.Do.Good social justice circle that she is in. And that connection led her to this position where she can use her producing and people skills to expand upon Ikar’s already amazing programming to bring people together to learn, connect and enjoy.
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Ethan Prager
Director of Membership & Community Giving
Ethan Prager was born and raised in Long Beach, California where he earned both his Bachelors, and Masters, from CSU Long Beach. He studied Philosophy and Religious Studies, respectively, while being very involved with Beach Hillel. Professionally, prior to working at IKAR, Ethan worked in the hospitality industry for over six years at various golf courses and spent close to two years working at the Oshman Family JCC, running young adult programming. He loves Jewish learning and engaging in the time-honored tradition of debating about Tanakh. In his free time, he enjoys listening to vinyl records and boxing. Feel free to reach out to Ethan regarding any questions surrounding membership at IKAR!
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Dr. Jane Rosen
Director of Early Childhood Education
Jane Rosen, PsyD, has a Master’s Degree in Art Therapy and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She also holds a certificate in Infant Mental Health from Cedars Sinai Hospital, where she did two clinical fellowships. Jane has been a preschool teacher at Sinai Temple, Temple Emmanuel, and Wagon Wheel School. Specializing children’s sensory integration, early childhood education and family systems therapy, Jane has worked for the past thirty-five years in the assessment and treatment of challenges throughout the life cycle. An adherent to the Reggio-Emilia philosophy, and informed by mindfulness, Jane is thrilled to be joining the IKAR community. She looks forward to creating and sharing an early school experience for IKAR children in an atmosphere of joyous discovery. Call me for: anything related to the Early Childhood Center.
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Ivy Sears
Clergy Executive Assistant
Ivy is a California native, hailing from the Northern California coastal village of Mendocino. She moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Emerson College with a B.A. in Media Production. While in Boston, Ivy wanted to combine her media skills with her passion for social and economic justice. She interned as a media and events coordinator for ABCD: Boston, a non-profit creating local economic opportunities for at-risk Bostonians. When she reached Los Angeles, she extended those communication skills to the entertainment industry, interning in the marketing department at Capitol Records. Ivy began her professional career working in the Paramount Pictures’ communications department. Most recently, Ivy has spent the last two years assisting the CEO of the Sony Music record label: AWAL. She is thrilled to be moving to the Jewish non-profit space,. She and her boyfriend, Kellen, are active members of IKAR. Ivy is excited to deepen her connection with the community. In her free time, she can be found crocheting, walking her dogs, cuddling her cats, or sitting on the couch watching early 2000’s television.
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Arianna Sikorski
Database and Systems Manager
Arianna is a solution extraordinaire and will surprise you with possibilities, it’s her superpower! She came to IKAR with a solid background in design, code, organization, event management, and nearly two decades of diversified experience working at various national and international museums, educational institutions, and community engagement events in Los Angeles, D.C., New Orleans, San Francisco, Belgium, England, and New Zealand. Taking on the role of Database & Systems Manager during the pandemic, Arianna “Excels” at finance administration, data integrations, technical support, staff training, and nonprofit management to provide workflow efficiency and a clean, safe database for IKAR. She holds a M.M. in International Arts Management and a B.A. in Communication. Born and raised in a cabin in Alaska, Arianna’s exposure to Jewish culture in the wilderness was minimal, but surprisingly did include celebrating major holidays, attempting to learn Hebrew letters on flashcards as a child, and taking the task of hiding the matzah during Passover a bit too seriously. California has always been a home base for Arianna, she loves the difference working at IKAR has made in expanding her experience and understanding beyond this childhood foundation. When not writing or walking at the beach, you may also find her doing yoga/acroyoga in the park, teaching a cooking class, paddle boarding, wine tasting, watching the latest 3D animation film, and/or reminiscing about her New Zealand nature highs and two years of international organic farming experiences.
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Justin Rosen Smolen
Director of the Jewish Emergent Network
The Jewish Emergent Network director, Justin Rosen Smolen leads collaborations across the seven Jewish Emergent Network communities to advance a bold and inspired vision for Jewish life. Rosen Smolen says he “loves the collaboration of visionary leaders and organizations reimagining Jewish life and creating new pathways for Jews and co-journeyers to build community, making meaning, and pursuing justice. I am inspired by the Network’s innovative, optimistic, and inclusive approaches to Judaism, and strengthening and forging new and diverse partnerships to collectively transform our communities and our world in service of these values.” Rosen Smolen brings over 15 years of experience in the Jewish professional world, where he launched and scaled innovative national programs with a focus on education, access, and inclusion, and built robust networks and ecosystems to support them. He is a Certified Diversity Practitioner through The People Company Inclusion Institute. He holds an MPA in nonprofit management and an MA in Jewish Studies and is an alum of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship and the Generation Now Fellowship. Rosen Smolen lives in northern New Jersey with his partner and their two young children. Rosen Smolen succeeded Jessica Emerson McCormick, who has led the Jewish Emergent Network as its inaugural director since 2016.
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Jess Solomon
Communications and Content Associate
Jess is a native Philadelphian, but calls Los Angeles her home. She earned her B.A. in Media and Communications from Goucher College, Cum Laude, with Honors in Media and Communications. She serves on the Goucher College Alumnae/i Board and on National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals Los Angeles Board as the Director of Marketing. She also has a personal organizing business and loves helping clients improve their lives. Outside of work, Jess enjoys exploring LA, photography, and checking off her bucket list items.
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Andrea v
Community Engagement Coordinator
Andrea v was raised in Rochester, NY. She moved to Los Angeles in 2009 where she attended California State University Los Angeles and earned her Bachelor of Arts in Vocal Music. Andrea’s journey into the Jewish nonprofit world began after college when she started working as a song leader. Andrea loves food, music, animals, gardening, writing, and she is very passionate about the environment and social justice.
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Beth Weisman
Director of Parenting and Admissions, ECC
Beth grew up in Las Vegas and attended the University of Pennsylvania, Brandeis University, and USC. She brings with her a wealth of experience in the field of Jewish early childhood education as a teacher, an administrator, an assistant principal, and  preschool director. She began her career as an English teacher at Harvard-Westlake School, and then joined the staff of the preschools at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Wilshire Boulevard Temple. She was the founding director of the IKAR Early Childhood Center in 2010 and continues her commitment to this very special program which embraces Jewish values and tradition, global awareness and involvement, and respect for children and their families. Call me regarding Early Childhood Center admissions or Parent & Me classes.
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Jenny Weston
ECC Operations & Office Manager
Jenny was brought to IKAR by the grace of God (and Jane Rosen) through her miraculous 3YO Olivia. She met Jane when Olivia was 4 months through The Wright Mommy and Me parenting class. Jane introduced her to IKAR, and they spent a year in the ECC’s Parent & Me class with Beth Weisman, who they adore and started to meet some wonderful IKAR families at Tot Shabbat Services. She served on several committees during her first year at ECC and is the current ECC PAC Co-Chair. She loves being at the ECC, working with the administration and the beautiful teachers and parents. Jenny has been in Los Angeles since 1997. She moved from Minnesota to pursue a dance scholarship at the Edge Performing Arts Center in Hollywood. Dance has been her passion since she was 4 years old. Working as a dancer/artist in LA, on the other hand, was not for her. After years of studying and performing, she decided to learn about the business side of the business. She was the General Manager of the Edge for 5 years then began working independently consulting for creative businesses and producing large scale experiential events. She is currently running and producing events for various Los Angeles based law associations including the Financial Lawyers Conference and the Los Angeles Bankruptcy Forum. Being raised by a single mother who has dedicated her life as the Development Director for many non-profits in Minnesota and in retirement continues to serve on several charitable boards, it is in her DNA to walk in her footsteps doing her best to help others and contribute to the greater good. Jenny is humbled by this opportunity, inspired by IKAR’s mission, by Rabbi Brous, Rabbi Ronit Tsadok (Olivia is obsessed!), the rest of the clergy, the musicians, the children, and the diverse community.
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Brooke Wirtschafter
Director of Community Organizing
Brooke and her husband, Jonathan Golub, discovered IKAR shortly after it was founded and immediately recognized the community that felt like home. It was the passion for social justice, prayer that felt alive, and people they wanted to get to know. Brooke was an early leader in IKAR’s organizing work and with PATH (People Assisting the Homeless). She served as a board member and helped write grants. Professionally, Brooke has been a city council aide, journalist, editor, grant-writer and community organizer. Most recently she served as Social Justice Program Manager at Valley Beth Shalom organizing around homelessness and affordable housing. Brooke holds a B.A. from Barnard College and an M.A. from San Francisco State University in History. Her college senior thesis was about Jewish women in early 20th Century New York City organizing market boycotts when the price of chicken rose beyond their means and they felt that they were being denied the right to practice their own culture. She’s been a student of community organizing for justice and equity ever since.
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