Nate DeGroot, 30
ALMA MATERS: Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School ’06, Vanderbilt University ’10, Hebrew College ’16
JOB: Hazon Detroit Co-director, Spiritual & Program director
FAVORITE FOOD: Thai food: specifically Phuket fish
FAVORITE MUSIC: I was raised on classic rock…Beatles, Crosby, Stills & Nash, James Taylor, Kenny Loggins, and Van Morrison. More recently … Chance the Rapper, The Carters, and Spotify Discover Weekly.
FAVORITE BOOKS: “Braiding Sweetgrass;” “The Fifth Sacred Thing;” “Emergent Strategy”
FAVORITE MOVIES: “The Matrix;” “Memento;” “Avatar;” “The Lion King;” “Remember the Titans;” more recently, the documentary “13th”
FAVORITE TV SHOWS: “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “High Maintenance,” “Atlanta,” “Planet Earth”
FAVORITE TRAVEL DESTINATIONS: I just got back from an amazing trip to the millennial paradise of Iceland.
FAVORITE JEWISH PERSON NOT IN YOUR FAMILY: My peers and friends and colleagues.
FAVORITE JEWISH HOLIDAY: Yom Kippur.
WHAT WAS YOUR JEWISH BACKGROUND GROWING UP?
My parents were always seekers trying to find a synagogue or a Jewish community that they felt at home in, so I kind of bopped around to different Hebrew schools over the years in Reform and Conservative shuls. My two primary childhood communities ended up being Jewish Renewal and Chabad. My home life was deeply spiritual, with a strong Jewish identity, a real strong celebration of holidays and community. I participated in the Maccabiah Games … went to Israel on Y2I when I was I guess 17, and had a really strong Jewish community and Jewish life at Vanderbilt University.
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO BECOME A RABBI?
I never considered becoming a rabbi until the age of 21. Prior to that, I anticipated I was gonna go into some kind of business. My junior year was a major turning point for me – I was very deeply surrounded by and a part of the dominant social culture at Vanderbilt, which, while there was a lot of fun to be had, there was also a lot of really destructive social behavior happening. I’d had these Alternative Spring Break experiences where I would come back feeling really centered, really whole, and really kind of clear on my purpose and the spiritual aspects of who I was. Winter of my junior year of college there came a breaking point where the values that I was living on the outside in my day-to-day life were not aligned with who I knew myself to be. I had a kind of 24-hour spiritual high that included praying the morning prayers … it was highlighted by a Matisyahu concert in Nashville. I came out of those 24 hours really clear that I wanted my path to be rooted in the internal, spiritual, seeking life, a life of what I now describe as the sacred … the words came out of my mouth for the first time: “Maybe I’ll become a rabbi.”
WHAT CAME NEXT?
I began a six-year stint at Hebrew College. What is most important to me is working with people to cultivate the sacred, build community, and ensure that community is not just inwardly facing, but also outwardly focused, doing our part to help achieve some equity and justice in this world. While I was still in school, I spent three summers founding Mikdash, a grass-roots cooperative Jewish community in Portland, Ore, rooted in a philosophy that each generation has the opportunity and responsibility to create our own version of sacred community. My last year of school I served as the Rabbinic Intern at a renowned progressive spiritual community in Los Angeles, called IKAR. While I was there, IKAR along with six other path-breaking Jewish communities from across the country formed the Jewish Emergent Network, to help revitalize the field of Jewish engagement. I was hired full-time as the inaugural Jewish Emergent Network Rabbinic Fellow at IKAR. After my experience at IKAR, I sometimes dream of helping to bring an IKAR-like Jewish Emergent Network community to Boston one day.
COULD YOU TALK ABOUT HAZON, WHERE YOU NOW WORK?
After finishing my Fellowship at IKAR, my amazing wife and I moved to Detroit, to be closer to her family and to get to work at Hazon. The work of Hazon is threefold: to help Jews reconnect to our own Earth-based Jewish roots; to help support and empower the food and environmental justice movement of the city of Detroit; and to connect Jewish resources and the Jewish community back into the city of Detroit in a way that’s exciting, inspiring, and accountable to the history of this community. With that as my mandate, it really feels like a wonderful opportunity to be engaged in the city justice movement, the more suburban Jewish community, and the earth itself, which I understand to be foundational to Judaism and perhaps the pathway best suited to guide society through the revolution of values I believe we so desperately need.