IKAR is a collaborative undertaking that relies on the contribution of a wealth of talented and dedicated people. Here are some of them.


RabbiBrous_4721 Rabbi Sharon Brous, Founder/Senior Rabbi

Rabbi Brous had no interest in becoming a rabbi until a bewildering weekend in the Old City of Jerusalem where she 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 and dove full force into serious Jewish learning and practice. As a rabbi, she found herself drawn not only to those already invested in Jewish life, but also to the deeply disaffected, folks who wouldn’t even walk in the door. She began dreaming up ways to make Jewish learning, ritual and community compelling and meaningful even for those alienated by conventional religion. In 2004 Rabbi Brous, Melissa Balaban and a handful of young entrepreneurial Jews set out to build IKAR, a laboratory for bold, imaginative Jewish practice – which quickly became one of the fastest growing Jewish communities in the country and a model for inspiring Jews from the most marginalized to the most engaged.

Since then, Brous has been recognized as one of the nation’s leading rabbis by Newsweek/The Daily Beast and among the 50 most influential American Jews by the Forward. In 2013 she topped The Daily Beast’s list, which credited her with reanimating Jewish community and re-energizing prayer at a time of growing disaffection and declining affiliation. In 2013 she blessed President Obama and Vice President Biden at the Inaugural National Prayer Service. She sits on the faculty of the Hartman Institute-North America, Wexner Heritage and REBOOT, and is a Senior Fellow at Auburn Theological Seminary. She serves on the International Council of the New Israel Fund and rabbinic advisory council to American Jewish World Service.

Brous was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2001 and received a Master’s Degree in human rights from Columbia University, where she also received her Bachelor’s Degree in 1995. Before moving to Los Angeles, where she now lives with her husband and three children, she served as a Rabbinic Fellow at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York City.

Click here to see Rabbi Brous’ upcoming speaking/teaching engagements.

Contact Rabbi Brous at RabbiBrous@ikar-la.org.

Rabbi Brous named most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek/Daily Beast. Read more

hillel Hillel Tigay, Hazan/Musical Director

Hillel majored in musicology, and specialized in composition, classical guitar, the renaissance lute and pop music. He went on to co-found the Jewish rap band MOT. The son of a rabbinical scholar, Hillel has spent his life expressing his love of yiddishkeit. He spent several years living in Israel, has cantored during High Holy Days since his high school years, and has been the bar mitzvah tutor at Beth Am in Los Angeles since 1991. In addition to leading IKAR services, he spends his time writing his own Jewish music and posing as an international male tweed model. Contact Hillel at hillel@ikar-la.org.

RRTpic - Copy Rabbi Ronit Tsadok, Associate Rabbi

Like many Angelenos, Rabbi Ronit Tsadok is an east coast transplant who came to LA for the sunshine… and also for the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, where she was ordained in 2012.  Through a series of fortuitous events Rabbi Tsadok joined the staff of IKAR in 2008 as the Educational Intern and has been thrilled to be on the team since then as the Rabbinic Intern, Rabbinic Fellow and now Associate Rabbi. Over the years — whether she was a fundraiser at Rutgers, a manager at Target, or an Assistant Teacher at Solomon Schechter Day School — Rabbi Tsadok found that she cherished any opportunity to share with adults and children the ways that Torah and the Jewish tradition can help us live more intentional and meaningful lives. She is grateful to have found IKAR, where traditional and innovative, past and present, personal and communal, particular and universal are all ingredients in creating a Judaism that is resonant and rooted. Contact Rabbi Tsadok to talk about Minyan Tzedek (IKAR’s Justice Initiative), Adult Learning, Life Cycle events, TRIBE (20s/30s), having coffee, or (her personal favorite) Talmud. She can be reached at rabbitsadok@ikar-la.org.


Here are the people behind the scenes who make it all happen (and whom you can call if it doesn’t):

Melissa_Crop_ Melissa Balaban, Founder/Executive Director

In 2004, Melissa and her husband Adam 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. When they could not find an existing community that met all of these needs, they joined with an immensely talented and inspiring group of people, led by Rabbi Sharon Brous, to create something beautiful. Melissa focuses on the strategic direction of the community. She works closely with the board and acts as Rabbi Brous’s partner in guiding the overall vision of IKAR and ensuring that it is reflected in all IKAR events and initiatives. 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 for a national human resources consulting firm, and an adjunct professor at Loyola Marymount’s MBA program. Melissa is a graduate of UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California Law School. 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 think of herself as a professional Jew. Contact Melissa at melissa@ikar-la.org.

Jami Bachrad, Director of Development

Jami and her husband Jordan were thrilled to find their niche at IKAR in its early days. As their lives have evolved and their family has grown, they have been awed, challenged, delighted, and nurtured by our extraordinary community. In 2010, Jami was honored to found and chair IKAR’s Early Childhood Center – where Dori, Rina, Liam, and Oren are past, current and future students, respectively. Jami has a B.A. in Jewish Studies from Indiana University and an M.B.A. in Non-Profit Management & M.A. in Jewish Communal Studies from American Jewish University. She has spent the past 15 years working throughout the Jewish community, with a recent focus on financial resource advancement. Contact Jami for money matters. Contact her at jami@ikar-la.org.

unnamed(1)Jessica Emerson McCormick, Program Manager for the Jewish Emergent Network

Jessica graduated from Antioch University with a Master’s of Fine Arts in writing and the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism. Most recently, she was the Communications Director at Sinai Akiba Academy. Previously, she worked as a government publicist, in business affairs for a production company, and as an entertainment reporter – and also has an extensive background in freelance marketing and strategic consulting. Jessica is obsessed with stories, pie and working towards a better world. Jessica, her husband Patrick, and her children Noam and Lila have the most fun together. Connect with Jessica for anything related to the Jewish Emergent Network. (Or pie.) Contact Jessica at Jessica@ikar-la.org.

unnamedMatt Weintraub, Assistant Director

Matt fell in love with the IKAR community in 2005 when a friend invited him to Shabbat evening services. Since then he’s helped to plan an IKAR Purim Justice Carnival, been involved with our Hesed team, and fund-raised for Limudim. Most recently, he was the Director of Marketing and Communications at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills. Matt’s also worked as the Director of Marketing & Communications at Shalhevet School and as Director of Talent Development at Professional Leaders Project, after working in the corporate world at Cornerstone OnDemand (SaaS Software), Loeb & Loeb (law firm) and Bragman Nyman Cafarelli (PR). He’s been very involved as a lay leader in the Jewish community, specifically focusing his time and efforts on Jewish education, Jewish camping, and social and economic justice issues. Matt was the founding President of the Board of Online Jewish Academy, which was named by Slingshot as one of the country’s most innovative Jewish organizations. He’s also an alumnus of the Progressive Jewish Alliance’s Jeremiah Fellowship. Matt currently serves on the Bureau of Jewish Education’s NextGen and Marketing Visibility committees, and is a board member and support group facilitator for the IBD Support Foundation. He received a B.S. in Business from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and lives in Sherman Oaks with his wife LeeAnn and two children, Noah and Madeleine. Got logistics on your mind? Don’t know what bucket your question falls into? Need to find out how to rule the world? Call Matt. Or email him at Matt@ikar-la.org.

meredith hoffa 201 Meredith Hoffa, Media and Communications Manager 

A native Bostonian, Meredith graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in English. A writer ever since, she’s worked for news outlets (PBS’ NewsHour, KQED), published her essays and short stories (New York TimesBoston Globe Magazine, literary magazines), mouthed off on pop culture (Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Los Angeles Magazine, Maxim, CNN.com, etc.) and even bylined the occasional parenting article (Fit Pregnancy, Kiwi). Her work appears in anthologies including Jewish Daughter Diaries: True Stories of Being Loved Too Much By Our Moms, a compilation of stories written by Jewish female voices from the entertainment industry and beyond. Call me for internal communications, external communications, and all things social media related — especially selfies. She may be reached at Meredith@ikar-la.org.

amir_headshot_web Amir Orbach, Director of Education 

Amir Orbach was born and raised in Ra’anana, Israel, a little town just outside Tel Aviv. After completing his military service he moved to New York City to pursue his acting career and performed in various productions in New York City and around the country. At the same time, he discovered his love and passion for Jewish Education and started teaching Hebrew and Judaic Studies. In 2008, Amir moved to Los Angeles and taught in several religious Schools in the South Bay area, including Congregation Tikvat Jacob (CTJ) in Manhattan Beach. It wasn’t long before Amir became CTJ’s Assistant Director of Education, as well as its Youth Director. In 2011 Amir won the prestigious Smotrich award for excellence in teaching from the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles. In 2013 Amir earned his Master’s degree in Jewish Education from the American Jewish University. Contact me for all things Limudim, B’nai Mitzvah and kids’ programming. Amir may be reached at Amir@ikar-la.org.

ikar 2Becca Steinman, Assistant Director of Education

Becca is a Michigan native who moved to LA in 2012 to follow her dream of becoming an educator and leader in the Jewish community.  She attended Michigan State University, where she focused on Spanish & Social Work and studied Jewish Studies in both Israel and Poland. Becca was President of the Jewish sorority, and she has traveled to Israel through multiple leadership opportunities. Before starting at IKAR full-time, Becca worked at the Westside Jewish Community Center, where she helped to build and grow their summer day camp, JCAMP – and also taught 5th grade Limudim for IKAR. Outside of work, Becca is dedicated to yoga, engaging with teens though a leadership program she runs in the Valley, and volunteering with a Mariner Girl Scout Troop.  Fueled by these experiences, she is excited to bring her passion and ideas to the IKAR community. Contact me about Teen Programming, Limudim, kids’ programming, and having great hair. Contact Becca at becca@ikar-la.org.

Jason Lipeles Jason Lipeles, Minyan Tzedek Organizer

Jason is exceptionally excited to be joining the team as IKAR’s community organizer for Minyan Tzedek — weaving the pursuit of justice, equality and dignity for all people into the fabric of everything we do as a community.  Jason is motivated by IKAR’s goal of engaging 100% of its community in social justice work; so don’t be surprised if you get a call!  Following in the footsteps of his grandmother, mother and sisters, he proudly calls himself a social worker.  While earning his Master of Social Work at USC, Jason concentrated on anti-hunger policy, working primarily with MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and Hunger Action L.A.  After grad school, he worked as a Development Coordinator for Community Services Unlimited and as a studio assistant for a local photographer.  Jason currently serves as the Chair of Bend The Arc’s Campaigns Committee and teaches monthly photography classes at the Long Beach Gay and Lesbian Center.  Call me with questions like “How can I make the world a better place?” or “What’s this Minyan Tzedek thing?” Contact Jason at jason@ikar-la.org.

063-Nate-DeGroot-20150811Nate DeGroot, Rabbinic Intern

A sixth and final year rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Boston and an east coast native, Nate brings a love of community, a curiosity of form and structure, a devotion to justice-healing work, a propensity for celebration, and a passion for connecting with the sacred to all that he does. With a B.A. in Human and Organizational Development from Vanderbilt University, Nate has extensive experience in experiential education, community building, and organizational consulting to bolster his formal rabbinic learning. He is the founder of Mikdash Portland, a grassroots cooperative Jewish community that empowers folks to share their gifts to integrate meaningful Judaism into the fabric of their lives. He expects to be ordained as a rabbi and receive his Masters in Jewish Education from Hebrew College in the spring of 2016. Nate couldn’t be more excited to join the IKAR team and is grateful for the chance to learn from within such an inspiring and innovative community. Call me regarding TRIBE and other rabbinic-type things. Contact Nate at nate@ikar-la.org.

Michelle Miracle, Events Team Leader

Michelle Miracle (yes, that is her real name), is a Denver native who found her way to LA six years ago to pursue acting, comedy, and voice-over. She has a degree in Speech Communication, a background in television post-production, project management, and restaurants. Michelle performs sketch comedy, improv and stand-up everywhere from cruise ships to comedy festivals. She is currently working on a “tight five” about working as the “Shabbas Goy,” and if you’re nice to her, she’ll save you a bagel. Call me for IKAR events. Contact Michelle at michelle@ikar-la.org.

devan Devan Conley, Membership and Operations Coordinator

Devan hails from a smallish town in the So Cal desert. She earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Redlands, and then promptly ignored it for four years before picking the pen back up. In pursuit of film and theater, she found her way to Los Angeles, where she fell in love with everything but the traffic. Coming from humble beginnings in Human Resources, baby whispering (as a nanny), and random stage shows (as an actress), she took a leap of faith into the beckoning world of non-profit, and is thrilled to have found a home at IKAR. Devan is a Southern Californian through and through, so if you spot her in a sweater, it’s below 80 degrees. If she had a superpower, it would be invisibility, or really great hair. Call me for anything logistics oriented. Contact Devan at Devan@ikar-la.org

MarninaMarnina Wirtschafter, Program Coordinator

Marnina has had a crush on IKAR since her 18th birthday, which fell on Yom Kippur. Nowhere else could she imagine so deeply appreciating a birthday without any cake…at least until the Disco Break Fast. Marnina grew up in Berkeley with a Jewish education that included a Renewal synagogue, a Reconstructionist havurah, a pluralistic Jewish day school, klezmer musician parents, and the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, which promotes pluralistic social, political, and religious discussion. She graduated from UCLA with a Communications Studies major and Theater minor. Her campus involvements ranged from a capella and sketch comedy to working on social justice issues with Jewish World Watch and Hillel.  She has studied in Germany, Poland, Belarus, and Lithuania (the latter three with Yiddishkayt LA) and taught preschoolers at the Sholem Community’s secular Jewish Sunday school. Call me for programmatic and membership issues. Contact Marnina at Marnina@ikar-la.org.


Dov Rosenblatt, Teen Programs Coordinator

Dov Rosenblatt is a professional musician and Jewish educator. After studying at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel and then graduating from Yeshiva University, Dov “accidentally” started a successful Jewish rock band, Blue Fringe, that performed in several countries and sold over 30,000 albums. Now living in Los Angeles, Dov teaches an elective course on understanding tefillah through songwriting at Shalhevet High School and New Community Jewish High School. His current bands, The Wellspring and Distant Cousins, have had their music featured in various TV shows, films, and commercials and perform often around LA and elsewhere. Dov and his wife Aura, an LA-native, have a 2 and 1/2 year old son named Moshe Kol who keeps them on their toes at all times.  Call me for anything related to IKAR teen programs. Contact Dov at teens@ikar-la.org.

NicolaNicola Davidson, Rabbinic and Executive Assistant

Nicola spent 27 1/2 years of her life living in a Banchory, a small town in the North-East of Scotland. As small as it may be, it is actually the center of the universe. After gaining her Nursing Degree at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland and spending 5 years as a Trauma Orthopedic RN, a change of career was calling and she found herself in the bright lights of Seattle working in youth ministry for 5 years before transitioning into life at the local high school, where she worked in the main office keeping the principals, staff and students in full functioning order. She and her partner Jenn got married in October, 2013.  A change of pace (and weather) beckoned them to LA; she is over the moon to be a part of IKAR! Nicola  has a bizarre appreciation of the WWE, a varied taste in music (excluding country and opera) and a love of service trips. You can find her at her happiest in Tijuana building houses for those who need them. Call me for scheduling, scheduling, scheduling! Need a meeting with clergy, or with Melissa Balaban? I’m your gal. Happy to help with calendar and event questions, too. Contact Nicola at Nicola@ikar-la.org.

ErikaErika Purdy, Jewish Emergent Network Project Administrator

Erika is thrilled to join the Jewish Emergent Network team after a three-year stint at the International Rescue Committee in Dallas, where she helped refugees find employment. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington and is currently working on her Masters in Human Rights with Southern Methodist University. Prior to making the trek to Los Angeles, Erika was an active lay leader with Atid and Temple Emanu-el in Dallas, assisting with event coordination and programming for young adults. She is obsessed with music, podcasts, and the new golden age of television. Erika is excited to combine her passions for Judaism and social justice in work with the Jewish Emergent Network. Call Erika for Jewish Emergent Network logistics, especially scheduling, or to give her a hot local tip…she’s an L.A. newbie!

FullSizeRenderJane 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. Contact Jane at jrosen@ikar-la.org.

1012821_10201029537412557_1874814056_n 2Beth Weisman, Director of Parenting and Admissions – ECC

Beth grew up in Las Vegas. She has a wealth of experience in the field of Jewish early childhood education as a teacher, an administrator, an assistant principal, and nursery school director. She began her career as an English teacher at Harvard-Westlake, and then joined the staff of the nursery schools at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Wilshire Boulevard Temple. She is excited to be building IKAR’s early childhood 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. Contact Beth at beth@ikar-la.org.

Deborah Zeffren

Deborah Zeffren, Operations Director – ECC

Deborah Zeffren was born and raised in California, where she was very actively involved in the Jewish Community. She earned her dual-B.A. in Political Science and Jewish Studies from Queens College. She recently served as the Director of Special Events for a fast-paced Jewish day school in Manhattan. Deborah served for six years as an EMT with a volunteer ambulance corps in Northern New Jersey. She recently returned to Los Angeles with her husband, Jay, and three amazing children, Akiva, Kayla, and Daniel, and is excited to join the IKAR team. Contact Deborah at deborah@ikar-la.org.