The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles announced it has selected HUC-JIR Faculty member Rabbi Sharon Brous as the recipient of its first Inspired Leadership Award. Read a recent Q&A with Rabbi Brous in The Forward (pdf). The Foundation created the biennial award program to recognize an outstanding professional leader whose vision can help transform the Los Angeles Jewish community. It provides a $100,000 donor advised fund for Brous to distribute to programs and projects of local Jewish organizations that support her vision.
Brous is the founder of IKAR, a vibrant Jewish spiritual community in Los Angeles dedicated to the integration of spiritual and religious practice and the pursuit of social justice. Among her accomplishments, Brous is credited by many for her innovative approach to reaching out and drawing back many young, unaffiliated Jews to Judaism. She was included in the Forward newspaper's annual list of the 50 most influential American Jews for three consecutive years, and Newsweek has named her one of the leading rabbis in the country.
"Rabbi Brous exemplifies the committee's criteria for this prestigious award: she's a forward-thinking leader who is ahead of her time, truly creative and entrepreneurial in her approach to Jewish communal issues," said Foundation President and CEO Marvin I. Schotland. "Her dynamic personality and commitment to Judaism and social justice are truly inspirational. She's a person of integrity and accomplishment who works to effect positive, meaningful change in the Los Angeles Jewish community." He continued, "For the first time in The Foundation's more than 50-year history, we have established a monetary award program that recognizes and supports the work of an individual. Our role as a prime source for funding causes in Jewish Los Angeles continues to evolve and expand. Consequently, our board feels it is incumbent upon us to identify outstanding young leaders and support their work.
"Rabbi Brous was selected from 15 candidates nominated by The Foundation's board. However, our organization has been aware of Rabbi Brous's breakthrough work for several years, and in fact, she was one of the inspirations for establishing the award,"
"I am thrilled and honored to receive The Foundation's inaugural Inspired Leadership Award," Brous said. "We started IKAR four years ago believing that if we approached traditional Jewish life with a pious irreverence, a true sense of mission, a spirit of innovation and risk taking, and a real sense of humor, we could build a beautiful and compelling model, and simultaneously catalyze a critical conversation in the American Jewish community about the Jewish future.
"We knew that these were ambitious objectives, but we also knew that the time was right to create a new model of Jewish community, particularly in a moment defined by religious apathy on one hand; extremism and divisiveness on the other. This award recognizes our work toward realizing our vision," the rabbi added.
Brous plans to use the $100,000 donor advised fund to inspire others to give thoughtfully and generously. This includes a matching challenge to IKAR community members who join her in a tzedakah (charity) collective. Brous envisions a group that will study the Laws of Tzedakah and collectively explore visionary, purpose-driven organizations and projects around the city that merit funding.
"My goal is to inspire people who might not otherwise be giving to give, and give meaningfully. We will be leveraging The Foundation's gift to create an even greater pool of resources," Brous said.
Brous, 34, was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2001. She received her master's degree in human rights from Columbia University, where she also received her bachelor's degree. After ordination, she served as a Marshall T. Meyer Rabbinic Fellow at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in New York City. Following her move to Los Angeles in 2002, she was Rabbi in Residence and director of Advanced Jewish Studies at Milken Community High School.
For the past seven years, Brous has served on the faculty of REBOOT, a nonprofit organization that seeks to revive Jewish tradition, and on the regional council of Progressive Jewish Alliance. She teaches social justice and spiritual activism at HUC-JIR and sits on the rabbinic advisory boards of American Jewish World Service and Hebrew College, Newton, Mass. A native of New Jersey, she resides in the Fairfax area of Los Angeles with her husband, David Light, a comedy writer, and their two daughters.