IKAR is a collaborative undertaking that relies on the contribution of a wealth of talented and dedicated people. Here are some of them.
Sharon Brous, Founding Rabbi
Sharon Brous had no interest in becoming a rabbi until a bewildering weekend in the Old City of Jerusalem where she was given the answers to all of life’s questions. While she ultimately found the answers facile and unconvincing, she realized she wanted to spend her life grappling with the questions. Years later, as a rabbi, she found herself drawn not only to those already invested in Jewish life, but also to those deeply disaffected. She began working to make Jewish learning, ritual and community compelling and meaningful even for those alienated by conventional religious expression. In 2004 Brous, Melissa Balaban and a handful of young, entrepreneurial Jews realizing they shared a passion for meaningful and intentional Jewish engagement, social justice and really good fair-trade chocolate, set out to create IKAR – now one of the fastest growing Jewish communities in the country.
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. After ordination, she served as a Rabbinic Fellow at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in NYC.
In 2013, Brous was recognized as the most influential Rabbi in the United States by Newsweek and the Daily Beast, and as one of the Forward’s 50 most influential American Jews. In 2013 Brous blessed the President and Vice President at the Inaugural National Prayer Service. She sits on the faculty of the Hartman Institute-North America, Wexner Heritage and REBOOT. She serves on the board of Teruah-The Rabbinic Call to Human Rights, is a rabbinic advisor to American Jewish World Service and Bend the Arc. She received the Lives of Commitment Award from Auburn Theological Seminary, was a JWI Woman to Watch and was the inaugural recipient of the Inspired Leadership Award from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.
She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, David, and their three children.
Contact Rabbi Brous at email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal, Director of Children and Family Education
Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal is the Director of Education at IKAR, where she oversees IKAR’s innovative Limudim religious school program, the IKAR ECC and programming for teens. Prior to coming to IKAR, she was the Director of Education at Congregation B’nai Zion in El Paso, TX and the Shabbat and Holidays Coordinator for the Youth and Family department at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York City. She was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she was a Wexner Fellow, and received a BA from Yale University. She was selected as a member of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s Education Panel, charged with re-envisioning education in the Conservative movement. Rabbi Rosenthal lives in LA with her husband Adam Arenson, a professor of American History and their sons Simon and Leo.
Contact Rebecca at Rabbirosenthal@ikar-la.org.
Rabbi Ronit Tsadok, Rabbinic Fellow
Ronit has been a part of the IKAR community throughout her years at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies where she was ordained as a rabbi in May 2012. Her road to the rabbinate included fundraising at Rutgers University, retail at Target, and teaching at Solomon Schechter Day School in New Jersey. Ultimately, she was inspired to become a rabbi and share her love of Torah and tradition with the masses.
In her free time, Ronit enjoys learning Talmud (yes, really), soaking up the LA sun, and watching trashy television dramas. Ronit is thrilled to be continuing her work within the community she so loves in her position as Rabbinic Fellow.
Contact Rabbi Tsadok at email@example.com.
Gabriel Botnick, Rabbinic Intern
Gabriel Botnick is thrilled to be the incoming rabbinic intern at Ikar, which has been his spiritual home for the past eight years. It was through his involvement at Ikar that Gabriel decided to become a rabbi, which is why you can see him singing with the davening team and reading Torah at Ikar on a regular basis. Entering his final year at the Ziegler School for Rabbinic Studies, Gabriel has already been certified as a shochet (kosher slaughterer) and mohel (circumciser). Passionate about adult education, he relishes any opportunity to make Judaism meaningful and relevant in our busy, modern lives.
Here are the people behind the scenes who make it all happen (and whom you can call if it doesn’t):
Melissa Balaban, Executive Director & Founding President
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jami Bachrad, Director of Development
In herfirst few years navigating the Jewish kaleidoscope that is Los Angeles, Jami had nearly given up on finding a niche. She was blessed to find it at IKAR, which has become a true home to her, husband Jordan, and their daughters, Dori and Rina. As their lives have evolved through the years, they have been awed, challenged, delighted, and nurtured by IKAR in their most joyful and most challenging hours. Jami has been honored to help found and chair our phenomenal new Early Childhood Center. Jami has a B.A. in Jewish Studies from Indiana University and an M.B.A. in Non-Profit Management & Jewish Communal Studies from American Jewish University. She has spent the past decade working in the Jewish community, most recently as Development Officer for the Southern California Region of Birthright Israel Foundation.
Contact Jami at email@example.com.
Alexandra Blaker, Director of Early Childhood Education
Alexandra joins IKAR ECC with a passion for exploring and respecting the developmental, educational and spiritual journey of children. After Young Judea Year-Course in Israel, Alexandra began studying early childhood education at UC Davis. She spent the next few years alternating time in California with returns to Jerusalem to deepen her learning, at Pardes for one summer and later at Nishmat. Alexandra relocated to Los Angeles to immerse in the growing Jewish community. She completed her degree in Human Development/Early Childhood Education at Pacific Oaks College. She has taught in many preschools throughout Los Angeles, and has run a variety of early-childhood programs, most recently as Preschool Director for The Garden School – a large, local, grant-funded preschool. She holds a California Department of Education Program Director certification.
Along the way, Alexandra has found inspiration in the techniques of the early childhood educators in Reggio Emilia, Italy; the philosophy of RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers); and both approaches support of children’s cognitive, emotional, spiritual and behavioral development through extraordinary focus on respect.
Alexandra and her husband Ken live in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles with their two young children, Eliana and Aryeh, blending RIE, attachment parenting and Reggio methods grounded on a strong foundation of Judaism.
Contact Alexandra at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abbe Meryl Feder, Director of Operations
Abbe’s leadership in the Jewish Community started in High School when she served as the National President of Young Judaea. Abbe graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a degree in Behavioral Science and Law, and a certificate in Jewish Studies. She continued her studies at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in her hometown of New York City. Abbe continues to pursue her acting career, and has been called the “greatest actress of her generation” by her grandmother. Prior to joining the IKAR team, Abbe worked for a nationally known musician, and was a program leader for The Young Storytellers Foundation, which promotes literacy and self esteem among underserved elementary school students. Abbe is married to filmmaker Isaac Feder.
Contact Abbe at email@example.com.
Orly Henkin, ECC Administrator
Orly comes to us with years of experience as a Jewish educator. She has served as the Director of Young Family Programming at a synagogue in Atlanta.She has also served as part of the administrative team at the Pressman Early Childhood Center here in Los Angeles.Orly and her family moved to Los Angeles three years ago so that her husband, Steve, could attend rabbinic school. Their daughter Dinah will be starting at the IKAR ECC in the fall, and the whole family is thrilled to be a part of the IKAR family.
Contact Orly at firstname.lastname@example.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.
Contact Michelle at email@example.com.
Alexandra Peha, Community Coordinator
Alexandra (known to most as Allie) was born and raised in Seattle. After graduating from the University of Washington with a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration, she moved south for some much needed sun. She was very involved with her childhood synagogue, as well as with USY and Hillel UW. After years of working in customer service for companies including Starbucks, Disney, and Macy’s, Allie is thrilled to be part of the IKAR staff and community.
Contact Allie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diana Phillips, Rabbinic/Executive Assistant
Diana Phillips is a writer of creative nonfiction, a life-long Anglophile and an avid Dolly Parton fan. She graduated magna cum laude from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with a degree in Television-Radio-Film and has worked as a journalist, event coordinator and TV producer prior to joining the staff at IKAR.
Contact Diana at email@example.com.
Beth 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.
Contact Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.