There is perhaps nothing more spiritual than music. That’s why, since the dawn of man, it has been used as a method of prayer. When the sun sets on the workweek, there is only one man Beit T’Shuvah trusts to sing to our souls. That man is Cantor Nathan Roth. “But who is Cantor Nate?” I hear you ask. To understand where the power in Nate’s soulful voice comes from, we must first understand the winding road he took to get to the bema.
By all accounts, Nate had a good childhood. He was raised by a loving family in a beautiful middle-class suburb in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For reasons that still escape him today, Nate felt like he was the outlier in his family. While they loved him deeply, his interest in music and goofing off set him apart from his three brothers and their academic excellence. It wasn’t until he started participating in his high school’s elaborate musicals that he realized his true calling.
Although he smoked weed in high school, it did not become a problem until he reached college. While attending the Baldwin Wallace Music Conservatory, where he studied opera and vocal performance, he noticed that inhaling burnt leaves on a daily basis was not the best thing for his singing voice. Who knew?! After a few years, he decided to drop out of school and move back in with his parents. At this point, Nate knew he had lost his way. That nice Jewish boy had become lost in the desert.
While living with his parents, he took a job at a local restaurant and started hanging out with his “less-than-ambitious co-workers”. Some of them would pop pills, so he started to pop pills. Some of them would snort pills, so he started to snort pills. Some of them would shoot heroin directly into their bloodstream, and you better believe he was shooting it right next to them. To him, drugs were a very social thing. He knew he had a problem and had no intention of stopping. “Ever since I dipped my toe in the water, it was never-ending until something dramatic happened,” Nate says with a remorseful smirk.
For the next five years, Nate spent his summers in rehab. “It was like the least fun summer camp to ever exist.” Even though he was a camper, he had no plans of staying sober. It took a while, but he finally realized he was tired of the same song and dance. He saw his thirties rapidly approaching and knew that he would have to make a profound change to get the life he wanted. Through the amazing worldwide network that is Jewish mothers, he learned of Beit T’Shuvah. After one conversation with Harriett, he was convinced to fly out to Los Angeles and give sobriety a try.
When he first arrived at Beit T’Shuvah, he thought his musical days were behind him. It took Laura Bagish seeing the potential in him and convincing him to sing during services for him to finally come out of his shell. Soon after that, he became an intern with the department, and then, after a year as a resident, he finally became a staff member.
Glenn Goss quickly became his mentor and dear friend. Glenn would continuously push Nate to break the boundaries he made for himself. Then one day, Glenn convinced Nate to become a Cantor. Singing in front of the congregation gave Nate a sense of purpose that he had never known before. Glenn was incredibly proud of Cantor Nate’s ability to touch the hearts of the community and its residents. Years later, after Glenn’s passing, Nate looks back at all the teachings of his wise mentor with pride, reveling in the time they got to spend together and the love they shared.
Personally, I remember hearing Cantor Nate’s booming vibrato at my first Shabbat and feeling a level of spirituality and connectedness that I had never experienced before. That’s his superpower.
Today, Nate is studying under the tutelage of the renowned and wildly admired, Cantor Nathan Lam. At Beit T’Shuvah, Nate found much more than just his passion and purpose, he found his soon-to-be wife, Sarah. She had gone through the house years earlier and now worked with Cantor Lam. They were introduced…and the rest is history.
For many, Cantor Nate’s voice is the siren call that leads them to treatment. The heart heard in every note Cantor Nate sings is truly what separates him from all else. Without Cantor Nate, Shabbat would just be another Friday night.
If you would like to hear Cantor Nate and the Shabbat Band channel their spirituality through song, join us at Beit T’Shuvah’s Shabbat Services Fridays at 6:30pm and Saturdays at 10:30am.