Last weekend we were privileged to have Rabbi Sharon Brous from Ikar speak at our congregation and at a couple of other events in the area. We all agreed she was fabulous, but it got me to wondering what, exactly, sets her apart from so many other rabbis?
I’ll start out by saying she is well versed in Torah. That should go without saying in regard to any decent rabbi, but if I didn’t say it, I can just see readers skimming through this post and then commenting at the bottom about how nothing she does matters if it isn’t based in Torah. So I thought I’d just nip that one in the bud.
The first thing Rabbi Brous brings to the table that some rabbis do not is a clarity of vision. She sees Judaism as it has been practiced in the recent past, and she sees where it could go. Her vision includes the desire to create a sense of surprise, to foster innovation, and to create a sense of connection to God and to others in the community.
Not only does she have this vision, but she is able to communicate it to others in a way that is convincing and easy to understand.
But she doesn’t just talk about this vision. Rabbi Brous has been able to bring these ideas to fruition by founding Ikar, which says on its website that it is “a religious approach that fuses piety and hutzpah, obligation and inspiration, tradition and soul.” In other words, she isn’t just writing and speaking about what needs to be done to reinvigorate Jewish life; she is taking it to the next level by putting her ideas into practice in the real world.
What Rabbi Brous brings to the table besides her vision and her action is her integrity. You can tell by the way she speaks that she is speaking from the heart. She isn’t interested in platitudes. She isn’t interested in catering to what she might think others want her to say. No. It is obvious that her energy and her focus come from a place of honesty and integrity that make her at once both vulnerable and powerful in a way that only the courageous can be.
One would think all of the above, taken together, would be more than enough to raise her above the level of an ordinary rabbi, and you would be right. But she adds one more important skill to all of this. She is able to spiritually inspire groups of people, even strangers.
For instance, during services on Saturday morning, she led us in a niggun, a wordless melody. But first she explained that prayer is both about connecting with God and about connecting with other people. She made it clear that in order to have a complete, deep prayer experience, both elements must be present.
As we began to sing and connect, she encouraged us to reach out to those around us who might be at a lower state of connection, and to pull them up with us. It is hard to describe what happened in that room, but in the space of a few short minutes it left several members of the congregation in tears.
I know I haven’t done justice to Rabbi Brous and what she has created at Ikar, especially since, as a Northern Californian, I haven’t had a chance to attend services there myself yet. If you live in Los Angeles and haven’t been there, I urge you to visit Ikar to check them out. See for yourself what makes Rabbi Sharon Brous so special.