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

Clergy

RabbiBrous_4721 Rabbi Sharon Brous, Founding 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.  Years later, as a rabbi, she found herself drawn not only to those already invested in Jewish life, but also to the deeply disaffected.  The people 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.

Rabbi 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, Rabbi Brous blessed the President and Vice President at the Inaugural National Prayer Service and was recognized as the most influential Rabbi in the United States by Newsweek and the Daily Beast.  She sits on the faculty of the Hartman Institute-North America, Wexner Heritage and REBOOT, and serves on the International Council of the New Israel Fund and rabbinic advisory council 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 rabbibrous@ikar-la.org.

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.

Headshot 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. Call me for matters of education, including Kids’ holiday programming, Limudim, or Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Contact Rabbi Rosenthal at Rabbirosenthal@ikar-la.org.

RRTpic - Copy Rabbi Ronit Tsadok, Assistant 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 Assistant 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.

Staff

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, 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 melissa@ikar-la.org.

Jami Bachrad, Director of Development

After a seven year term on the IKAR Board of Directors, Jami enthusiastically joined the professional team in 2013 and transitioned to become Director of Development. She 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. Jami was honored to found and chair the IKAR Early Childhood Center – where Dori, Rina, and Liam are past, current and future students, respectively. She 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 14 years working throughout the Jewish community, with a recent focus on financial resource advancement. Contact Jami at jami@ikar-la.org.

Alexandra Blaker 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. Call me for: anything related to the Early Childhood Center. Contact Alexandra at ablaker@ikar-la.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. Don’t know what bucket your question falls into? Want your issue resolved with a Joan Holloway-like swiftness and panache? Call Abbe. Contact Abbe at abbe@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, anthologies, 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 will appear in the upcoming Jewish Daughter Diaries: True Stories of Being Loved Too Much By Our Moms (May 2014, Sourcebooks), 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.

emilykruskol Emily Kruskol, Assistant Director of Education 

Emily received her B.A. from the University of Oregon in Art History and Judaic Studies and was active in Oregon’s Jewish community, serving on the Hillel Student Board and as President of the local Jewish sorority, Sigma Mu Omega.  Summer camp was where Emily found her passion for Jewish learning; she attended and worked at JCA Shalom, Camp Hess Kramer, Gindling Hilltop Camp and URJ Camp Newman for a total of 13 summers. Since graduating college, Emily has worked as a preschool teacher at Sinai Temple and as a religious school teacher at IKAR, Temple Aliyah and Temple Adat Elohim.  Most recently she served as the Religious School Assistant Director at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks. In the summer of 2013, she worked with BJE’s Teen Service Corps and volunteered with MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger in their youth department. Last February, Emily began studying through Hebrew College for her double Master’s in Jewish Education and Jewish studies, with an emphasis on experiential education.  Emily has a passion for working with children and teaching the morals and values of Judaism to the next generation. Call me for anything to do with education and kids’ programming. Contact Emily at emily@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.

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.

Alexandra Peha, Membership and Program Manager

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. Call me for community questions, membership issues and upcoming events. Contact Allie at allie@ikar-la.org.

 

Georgia's Mugshot Georgia Gruzen, Operations Coordinator

Georgia was born and raised on the island of Manhattan.  She holds a B.A. in English and Film Studies from Cornell University.  She also earned an M.F.A. in Social Documentary Film from School of Visual Arts in New York.  Georgia and her film “Fanuzzi’s Gold” enjoyed traveling around the country to many festivals.  She was raised in an Interfaith family where Jewish traditions were a big part of life.  She moved to the wilderness of Los Angeles and recently completed her conversion process.  From a timid outsider at IKAR, she’s proud to have schmoozed her way into the administrative elite. Call me for anything logistics oriented. Contact Georgia at Georgia@ikar-la.org.

Oliver Joseph 2Oliver Spike Joseph, Rabbinic Intern

Originally from the United Kingdom and most recently from Jerusalem, Oliver Joseph is finishing his last year at the Ziegler School for Rabbinic Studies here in Los Angeles and is blessed to be continuing his learning as the rabbinic intern at IKAR. Oliver is a graduate from the Educators Program at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and a Masters in Jewish Philosophy from Tel Aviv University. Oliver grew up in the Masorti/Conservative Movement in the UK. During his time in Israel, Oliver was closely involved in social and political activism.  For the past five years Oliver worked with Encounter, an NGO that brings Jewish leaders to meet with Palestinian community leaders in the West Bank. Oliver also worked to produce the Refugee Seder, a large Tel Aviv event which unites Israelis with African refugees who shared stories of freedom and exodus. He is looking forward to continuing his political, personal, and spiritual activism with the IKAR community. Contact Oliver at Oliver@ikar-la.org.

dov_ikar_picture

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.

Valerie SchneiderValerie Schneider, ECC Administrator

Valerie is a Los Angeles native who has called Southern California home her entire life, with the exception of a three year sabbatical spent enjoying “La Dolce Vita” in Italy.  It was there that her passion for cooking, languages, and living a simpler lifestyle were fueled. There, also, her desire grew to learn more about Judaism and become further involved in the Jewish community here in Los Angeles.  She is an alumna of San Diego State University and has a background in makeup artistry and digital media, having worked for MAC Cosmetics, Discovery Channel and Sony Pictures.  In addition to cooking, Valerie loves to travel, enjoys wine-tasting (Manischewitz of course), hiking, and being involved in pretty much any experience where she can learn, explore, and be creative.  Valerie has been a part of the IKAR community since first helping out with Shabbat childcare in 2011.  She is thrilled to once again be a part of the IKAR family!  Contact Valerie at ValerieS@ikar-la.org.

Ashley SwankAshley Swank, Rabbinic and Executive Assistant

Ashley Swank was born in the harsh desert winds of Apple Valley, California. For many years she trained in the elements, preparing her body and mind for a lifetime of being intensely awesome. After graduating early from high school, she went to spend time with her older sister in Arizona. It was at the airport on the way to her sister’s house where she met the Dean of Brigham Young University and was told to consider going to school there. She did go there. She studied creative writing and editing, met her amazing husband Kasey Thompson, and then decided to go to film school in Los Angeles. Ashley is now extremely ecstatic to join IKAR and get to know everyone. She has a wide range of 80′s music knowledge and loves to eat all foods, along with skills and knowledge in the following fields: television shows, classic novels, and all things movies. If you feel you can challenge her on any of these areas, please come by the office. Only during lunch break, though. 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 Ashley at ashley@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.