Gathering in a makeshift sanctuary inside the auditorium of the Westside JCC, IKAR’s holy place contains no bimah, no stage. Rather, the young community encircles a small wooden ark and envelops an empty space. Facing each other, they stretch their necks to look at their leaders: a petite and pedagogic rabbi, an assured rabbinic intern, an emotive cantor and accompanying vocalists and drummers. The congregants project their prayers into the open space, filling it with the electricity sparked by their sways. With emphasis on prayer, learning and healing, the IKAR community congregates with warmth and honesty.
On Friday, IKAR’s Shabbat b’Yahad drew 100 participants to a traditional worship service with davening. Led by Rabbi Sharon Brous, a former fellow at B’nai Jeshurun in New York, who emphasizes ethereal meditation and eschews mechanical prayer, IKAR intimately engages with the text through music, movement and reflection. The rabbi fosters this approach through gentle guidance and by example. She provides Talmudic anecdotes and quotes Jewish rabbis and scholars, elucidating context for each week’s service. In sharing personal tales or speaking about Israel, she links ancient texts with contemporary issues and encourages creative davening. If you can’t read Hebrew, a full transliteration booklet is provided; if you can’t say the prayers, dance to them.
IKAR’s website declares, “Our community stands at the intersection of spirituality and social justice, a mandate that is integrated into everything we do.” Though their mission is bold, IKAR succeeds as an understated and open community, embracing its Hebrew name, meaning “essence,” “core” or “root.”
When prayer is silent, the empty space in the middle of the community is consistently filled with IKAR’s essence: giggling little girls play ring-around-the-rosy, men and women intertwine in a vibrant dance of the hora, a newborn baby receives her Hebrew name and a woman sings a song for Jerusalem with melancholy and tenderness. Soon, the community joins its voice in shared longing for the land. From one holy place to another, the text is a starting point for a prayer exemplified in physical and emotional expression.
Celebrate Shabbat with IKAR the 1st (6:45pm) and 3rd (6:15pm) Friday of each month and study Torah (9:15am) the 2nd and 4th Saturday mornings. All programs take place at the Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, except the 1st Friday of the month at Roxbury Park, 471 S. Roxbury Drive, Beverly Hills.