What is ikar?

“The challenge today is to be animated by both gratitude and unrest, by humility and audacity, and to feel the exodus from Egypt — our people’s journey from slavery to freedom, from degradation to dignity — in our guts. Our Jewish story calls us to become agents of social change whose fiercest weapons are love, faith and holy hutzpah.”

— Rabbi Sharon Brous

The Big Idea

ikar is a way in: We see you

We are diverse and dynamic, proudly opening our doors to newbies and ringers, seekers and cynics, activists and ambivalents. All are welcome here.

ikar is a holy community: We were put here to do more than just look good.

We’re a sacred collection of people working to awaken the spirit and bring love and justice to the world.

ikar is a catalyst: It’s not all about you. Or us.

We’re building a spiritual roadmap for creative, courageous, faith-inspired, justice-driven Judaism, in Los Angeles and around the country.

ikar is a challenge: Don’t get too comfortable.

We are simultaneously animated by gratitude and unrest, by humility and audacity. We’re called to be both wholehearted and brokenhearted, reminded to engage deeply in the world as it is while fighting every day for the world as it ought to be.

The Mission

ikar’s mission is to reanimate Jewish life and develop a spiritual and moral foundation for a just and equitable society.

Fusing piety and hutzpah, obligation, and inspiration, ikar is a dynamic, multi-generational community that fosters a yearning for personal, purposeful, creative engagement in Jewish life, particularly among young and disaffected Jews. Rooted in Los Angeles and reaching globally, we strive to actively and intentionally celebrate the vibrancy and diversity of the Jewish people.

In a time of great upheaval and great possibility, we, as a faith community, stand with our multifaith partners as voices of moral courage, sources of spiritual strength, and first responders to injustice and indifference. Together, we are building a community fueled by Jewish traditions, texts, and audacious dreams, and working to lay the foundation for a society built on love, rooted in justice, and propelled by our moral imagination.

Our Story

Sharon Brous had no interest in becoming a rabbi until a bewildering weekend in the Old City of Jerusalem where she, as a college student, accidentally stumbled upon the answers to all of life’s questions.

Three hours later, she realized that the answers were facile and unconvincing, but she determined that she would devote her life to grappling with the questions. Barely knowing the words to Kiddush, she enrolled in Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary and dove into serious Jewish learning.

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 Morris Panitz joined us in 2021 as Associate Rabbi, Rabbi Hannah Jensen joined us in 2022 as Assistant Rabbi, Rabbi Deborah Silver joined us in 2023 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.