December 11, 2018

IKAR Readies Its Next Chapter

After operating for nearly 15 years in temporary rental spaces, IKAR has purchased a permanent home.

On Jan. 22, the progressive egalitarian spiritual community closed escrow on a property on South La Cienega Boulevard, between West 18th and Airdrome streets, IKAR Board Chair Yoni Fife said in a Feb. 2 statement.

IKAR paid $6.9 million for the 21,000-square-foot storefront property, according to figures obtained by the Journal.

As the IKAR community prepares for a capital campaign to fund the construction and anticipated operating costs of its future home, IKAR also has begun the process of hiring an associate rabbi who would join the clergy team of IKAR Senior Rabbi and co-founder Sharon Brous and IKAR Associate Rabbi and Director of Community Learning Ronit Tsadok.

“We are looking for someone who can teach, preach and be a part of the IKAR community,” IKAR co-founder and Executive Director Melissa Balaban said.

Fife said IKAR has been searching for a permanent home since the fledgling days of the organization.

“It’s something we have been thinking about frankly since pretty close to Day One, giving ourselves a sense of permanency and long-lasting stability,” Fife said.

And Balaban said the purchase would serve IKAR’s longtime goal of becoming a center for progressive Jewish life in Los Angeles.

“We always had the idea of building something beyond a traditional shul — a hub of civic engagement, art and culture, and spirit.” — Melissa Balaban

“We always had the idea of building something beyond a traditional shul — a hub of civic engagement, art and culture, and spirit,” she said.

Founded in 2004 by a small group of Jewish leaders who were frustrated with the status quo in the local Jewish community and wanted to create a place that would accommodate experimental expressions of Judaism, the nondenominational, social justice-oriented community has operated in rented facilities since its establishment.

The Westside Jewish Community Center housed IKAR until it relocated to Shalhevet High School, its current home, in 2015.

Two IKAR families, which IKAR leaders declined to identify, donated the lead gifts to the community toward the purchase of the property.

The property includes several vacant buildings on three parcels of land. The only current tenant is Vanos Architects, now a tenant of IKAR. The property is located on the western side of South La Cienega Boulevard.

It could be years until IKAR moves into the building, but on Feb. 2, 65 people affiliated with Tribe, IKAR’s young professionals group, attended a Shabbat dinner at the purchased site, gathering in an empty warehouse on the northern end of the property. When the Journal visited the property several days later, a table with IKAR signs hanging above it remained inside the warehouse near the front entrance.

The congregation is conducting a study of construction costs and needs with the help of capital campaign consultants, board members and mentors, including Uri Herscher, founding president of the Skirball Cultural Center, Brous said.

“We want to be careful how we go about this massive fundraising effort,” Brous said. “Ultimately what matters is we’re able to run our community, our organization, our program for this space.”

Community support will be necessary for a successful fundraising campaign, Fife said.

“We now have a lot of work ahead as we move to the planning phases of a campaign to raise the funds we’ll need to design and construct a new building at the site,” Fife said. “We will need the full support of our community to make our dreams a reality.”

Even as IKAR, once a scrappy startup-like organization, grows, Balaban said IKAR would continue to commit itself to the qualities that have made it unique among Jewish organizations today.

“The fortunate thing of building something from scratch is you can put all your values into it, whether environmental, inclusion, etc. We can think through all of those aspects literally from the ground up and a lot of places don’t have that luxury because they are starting from something that already exists,” Balaban said.

One reason for the choice of location is it is geographically desirable for many IKAR members in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood who are Shabbat observant and do not drive on Shabbat.

“We drew a striking zone of about a two-mile radius from the heart of the Jewish neighborhood [when searching for a property],” Brous said. “We have a combo of walkers, who all live in that neighborhood.”

The new property also will allow IKAR to consolidate its operations in one location. Currently, it holds services and religious school at Shalhevet, has offices in the Mid-Wilshire district and runs an early childhood center on Venice Boulevard.

“There are a lot of pieces of the overall vision we haven’t been able to fully realize because we have been in multiple rental properties,” Brous said. “I think this will give us an opportunity to more fully manifest our dreams and visions for this organization.”

The move to a new home means Brous will be dedicating more of her time to fundraising than she has previously. And the evolving nature of Brous’ job, coupled with Tsadok taking on responsibility for IKAR education programs last year, has necessitated the hiring of an additional clergy member, Balaban said.

IKAR is seeking someone who has more than four years of experience for the clergy position. IKAR Vice Chair Rachel Waranch is leading the search committee.

“We’re putting it out to networks, to people in different fields,” Balaban said. “The Jewish rabbinic community is smaller than one would think.”

IKAR is also in the process of interviewing individuals to succeed its two-year Jewish Emergent Network rabbinic fellow, Rabbi Nate DeGroot, whose fellowship concludes this year.

IKAR’s membership comprises more than 600 households. Among them are Dan Messinger, who runs a kosher café on Pico Boulevard, and his wife, Deena, a Pressman Academy teacher, who live in Pico-Robertson with their two sons. The family walks more than 35 minutes to attend IKAR services at Shalhevet, located at West Olympic Boulevard and South Fairfax Avenue.

IKAR’s move to its new location will reduce the Messingers’ walk by more than 20 minutes, he said.

“They are moving a few blocks from where I live, so I feel like everything is working out according to my master plan,” Messinger said.

While his older son, Max, 11, will likely have his bar mitzvah at the current IKAR site, Messinger said he anticipates his younger son, Isaac, 8, will become a bar mitzvah at IKAR’s new home.

“There is always a long time between when the announcement is made and when the ribbon is cut, so to speak, but it is great for IKAR,” he said, “and I think it will be great for L.A.”