Nate DeGroot was in his junior year of college when he experienced an epiphany during a reggae concert. “It was like I woke up mid-stride,” he explained, “running a race I never signed up for.” The catalyst for his awakening was the music of a Jewish American performer called Matisyahu, a reggae vocalist, beat boxer, and alternative rock musician who was playing that night in Nashville, TN. DeGroot had been drifting during his years at Vanderbilt University and was at a moment in which he was feeling disconnected from himself. “I had this experience where who I am on the inside was not reflecting who I was on the outside,” said DeGroot.
The concert was part of a prayer filled twenty-four hour spiritual high which enlightened and empowered the young man to alter the course of his life. He attended a breakfast at Hillel and a dinner at Chabad during which Matisyahu spoke, answered questions, and led prayers before attending the concert. “The title track he was touring was ‘I will be light,’” DeGroot explained, “and that became my personal mission statement for years afterwards,” DeGroot recalled.
DeGroot, originally from Hamilton, experienced an eclectic Jewish upbringing in which his parents were constantly searching for a meaningful and spiritual Jewish connection. He would go on to complete his Bachelor’s degree with a focus on Human and Organizational Development, leadership and organizational effectiveness, but had decided to become a rabbi. DeGroot moved on to Hebrew College in Boston where he is in his sixth and final year as a rabbinical student.
DeGroot believes that in many ways we, as a western society in America, have marginalized and lost sight of the sacred. “What have we turned to, to direct our life in our time?” According to DeGroot, often times we turn to profit or accumulation. “I think we have done a disservice to the Holy and the sacred place within us and the way that we as humans are able to cultivate and manifest the sacred with one another.”
Despite still being in school, DeGroot is already on his way to becoming an influential rabbi. “As a rabbi my hope is to be a part of communities that are actively trying to cultivate the sacred and orient our lives toward bringing more and more Holiness and wholeness into what it means to be human,” said DeGroot.
With his upcoming ordination in June, DeGroot has a promising rabbinical future ahead of him. He has been a Rabbinic Intern at IKAR, a Jewish community dedicated to restoring the vitality of Jewish religious practice in L.A., for the past year. DeGroot makes a bicoastal commute to L.A., for 10 days a month to work. This year, DeGroot has been working with IKAR’s twenties and thirties group called Tribe.
In DeGroot’s mind, IKAR “really kick-started this whole Jewish religion network movement, which is a movement I really believe in.” According to DeGroot, the values of innovation, creativity, rootedness in tradition and developing a Judaism that corresponds to the particular community is a project that he is deeply dedicated to. “To me it’s a very exciting opportunity to be working at what I see as a pioneer in the Jewish community.”
Most recently, he has been accepted as the first full-time Jewish Emergent Network Rabbinic Fellow at IKAR, where he will spend two years immersed as a part of a cohort of seven rabbinical fellows around the country. “The role that I hope to have as a rabbi is to help try to center the sacred in our lives, in our community and in our society.”