As Ikar Plans for a New Home, Can the Quirky Syn­a­gogue Retain its Edge?

Forward Magazine - - FOREGROUND - By Ari Feld­man

The Los An­ge­les con­gre­ga­tion Ikar likes to break the un­spo­ken rules of Amer­i­can Ju­daism. It does not call it­self Conservative, Or­tho­dox or Re­form. It doesn’t even call it­self a syn­a­gogue, be­cause it has no per­ma­nent home. It holds ser­vices — known for their drum cir­cles and packs of roam­ing chil­dren— in rented au­di­to­ri­ums and class­rooms.

Now, Ikar — whose name trans­lates roughly as “essence” — is plan­ning to defy an­other taboo: It re­cently an­nounced that it will con­struct its own build­ing, from scratch, on a piece of prop­erty in Los An­ge­les’s Mid­town area, and it will get donors from coast to coast to help fund a build­ing they don’t even go to.

“We don’t want to build an­other shul,” said Melissa Bal­a­ban, Ikar’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “We want to build a place for in­no­va­tion.”

Ikar was founded by in 2004 in a Santa Mon­ica, Cal­i­for­nia, liv­ing room by Bal­a­ban and some two dozen other peo­ple, in­clud­ing Ikar’s cur­rent se­nior rabbi, Sharon Brous, who was or­dained at the Conservative move­ment’s flag­ship Jewish The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary. Un­til re­cently, the syn­a­gogue’s board was loosely struc­tured with over­lap­ping re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and self-im­posed term lim­its — a sharp con­trast to the ad­min­is­tra­tive fo­cus of the United Syn­a­gogue of Conservative Ju­daism.

Buoyed by Brous’s grow­ing na­tional pro­file, Ikar has an out­size in­flu­ence for its size. It has only 640 house­holds but it en­joys the name recog­ni­tion of much big­ger in­sti­tu­tions, like Cen­tral Syn­a­gogue, in New York, and Si­nai Tem­ple, in Los An­ge­les. That still makes it one of the largest un­af­fil­i­ated syn­a­gogues in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to Steven M. Co­hen, a pro­fes­sor of Jewish so­cial pol­icy at New York’s He­brew Union Col­lege-Jewish In­sti­tute of Re­li­gion. With a new build­ing, Ikar is look­ing to fur­ther es­tab­lish its place in the “wider Jewish con­ver­sa­tion,” Bal­a­ban said.

“Can they con­tinue to be an up­start if they have a build­ing?” said Michael

Rabbi Sharon Brous (left) with con­gre­gants at a 2016 re­treat.

Beren­baum, a de­vel­op­ment con­sul­tant for mu­se­ums and a pro­fes­sor of Jewish stud­ies at the Amer­i­can Jewish Univer­sity, in Los An­ge­les. “[A]re you the same rad­i­cal when you have a mort­gage? It will be in­ter­est­ing to find out.”

The Un-Syn­a­gogue

Ikar has said that it has been look­ing for a build­ing “since pretty close to Day One.” But the search did not be­gin in earnest un­til 2012, when Ikar found a ma­jor donor to be­gin a cap­i­tal campaign for a new build­ing and raised “seed” fund­ing of about $500,000.

The com­mu­nity re­ceived an ex­tra push in the form of the so-called “Trump bump ” in at­ten­dance at syn­a­gogues. Matt Wein­traub, Ikar’s as­so­ciate ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, cred­ited the elec­tion with pro­vid­ing some fuel to

COUR­TESY OF IKAR

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