From Brazil to the Bima
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From Brazil to the Bima

Fulfiilling a calling, Congregation Etz Chaim's new rabbinic intern has been preparing to be a rabbi since 16.

Natan Freller (right) is the new rabbinic intern at Congregation Etz Chaim.
Natan Freller (right) is the new rabbinic intern at Congregation Etz Chaim.

Growing up in São Paulo, Brazil, Natan Freller’s friends jokingly called him “rav” because the rabbi-to-be led services and taught Hebrew School since he was 16. But Freller, Congregation Etz Chaim’s new rabbinic intern, wasn’t always sure he wanted to be a rabbi.

The AJT caught up with Freller, 28, on his first day at Etz Chaim and learned about his life in Brazil, his decision to become a rabbi, his favorite American sports team, and the Atlanta attraction he’s excited to visit.

He took us back to his life before rabbinic school: “I grew up engaged in the Jewish community. As a volunteer I was a counselor for many years, secretary of the Zionist Youth Council, and represented the youth groups of São Paulo on the Jewish Federation board.”

But after high school, Freller wanted to try other careers before making any decisions about being a rabbi. He headed to business school and was a business consultant for two years.

“I wanted to be able to make this decision by myself, and not just follow what others thought that I should do,” Freller said. He figured he could always use his business skills, even as a rabbi. While working in the business world, he organized weekly programming for the youth in his home synagogue, Congregação Israelita Paulista, and that experience helped convince him he wanted to be a rabbi after all.

Freller eventually became a rabbis’ assistant in Brazil before heading off to the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

As if being a rabbi is not enough, Freller also is a mashgiach, kashrut inspector, which he did for Camp Ramah in California. He’s also a shochet, a kosher butcher, but mainly so he can eat kosher meat, he said.

Rabbi Freller loves to be outdoors.

Camps were always a big influence in his Jewish life, so he enjoys being a part of youth activities even as an adult. He was education director of BB Camp in Oregon, and this summer was the rosh kvutza, group leader, for USY Pilgrimage to Israel, one of his many trips to the Jewish state.

When he’s not traveling and studying, Freller said he likes to play European handball, which he did growing up, along with the classic Brazilian sport, soccer. Another pastime he enjoyed even before moving to this country was watching American football. He even had a fantasy football league with friends in Brazil. He said his favorite team is the Patriots because he had family in Boston and studied English there for a while some 10 to 12 years ago. He also appreciates the outdoors and is looking forward to visiting the World of Coca-Cola.

He hasn’t been here long, but he can already tell it’s hotter than São Paulo. So will he return to Atlanta after rabbinical school? With two years of rabbinic school left, Freller wants to keep his options open. He said he would consider being a rabbi involved with advocacy, a camp, university, Hillel or other organization. If he decides to be a pulpit rabbi, though, he prefers to be a teacher with a more interactive, discussion style, rather than just lecturing.

Having been a rabbi-in-training for so long, what’s a few more years to decide for sure?

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