Meet Erika: Jewish Community Builder of the Week

by Allison Friedman / June 1, 2021

Have a suggestion for a Jewish Person of the Week? Email to nominate your friend, colleague, partner, or even yourself!

Get to know Erika Kauder – a natural community builder, DC hypewoman, and antiquing pro. Learn all about her newfound love of golf and advice for where to find the best bagels in the city.

Rachel: What brought you to DC and what made you stay? 

Erika: I came to DC in 2006 for college at GW. I had every intention of leaving DC, but I ended up landing a job here and making a really cozy, comfortable community for myself in the hospitality industry and creative space. Prior to coming to Federation, I spent many years as a publicist and social media manager for the restaurant industry and most recently as the service director at The Dabney (a magical place for those who don’t know it!) The close-knit community and family that the food and beverage industry provided was unlike any other and rooted me deeply in this city.

The other thing I love about this city is how much the art scene and space for creativity & community has exploded in the last few years. From the small businesses lining the warehouse district around Union Market (visit Common Thread for fun antique pop-ups by @libbylivingcolorfully) and cute shops up in Petworth (If you haven’t been to She Loves Me, go now), to Northeast Track Club my friend Carl Maynard hosts weekly, it has become such an incredible space for community builders, artists, and young inspiring creatives to blossom. It’s a really exciting time to live here –  I like to think of myself as one of DC’s community hypewomen. 

Rachel: Tell me a little bit about what you do at the Federation. 

Erika: My official title is Development Officer for Young Leadership with The Jewish Federation, which lives within the fundraising department. This allows me to focus on what I do best: relationship & community building. It’s my job to connect with the incredible people that make up our community and connect them to the greater Jewish community and of course to Federation. I also do a lot of work with leadership programming, which has been a really exciting part of my job. I ran a program called NEXUS, which we rebooted this year. Needless to say, I love my job. 

Rachel: How did you switch from restaurant publicist to development officer? 

Erika: I had actually been interested in the food space for a very long time having grown up in a big food family (one side Italian, one side Sephardic) and cooking alongside my parents in the kitchen from a very young age. In fact, I wanted to go to culinary school, but ended up at GW as an English major with hopes to get into food journalism. After holding countless restaurant jobs at night, I realized that there was an opportunity to marry what I love (food) with my degree, so I built my expertise and a restaurant PR company from the ground up. Eventually, I was hired in-house at The Dabney where hospitality, relationship building, and creating magical moments were my expertise. I loved taking care of people and mentoring my staff more than anything. 

When COVID hit, I needed to pivot and it provided me with a lot of time to think about what was important for me. As much as I loved working in restaurants, the hours are long and it can be hard to see family and friends and keep up with Jewish traditions. I realized I love connecting with people and building experiences that will make memories for years to come. I wanted to be able to take that passion to do work that impacted the world on a grander scale. I came across this position and it seemed to be a perfect marriage between my heritage, my culture, and this idea that I wanted to connect with incredible people and make an impact. And hospitality is in everything, anyway, so it truly is the perfect blend of things for me.

Rachel: What does your dream day in the DMV look like? 

Erika: I live near H Street, so I would start my day with a run down to Lincoln Park because I love looking at the homes along the park, and if I was feeling good I’d make it down to the waterfront. After that, I would go grab a bagel at my favorite bagel shop, which is Pearls in Shaw followed by a coffee at A Baked Joint.

Then I’d probably pick up some Crunchy Boi subs from Compliments Only owned by my dear friend Pete Sitcov – a Jewish small biz owner & sub aficionado, and ride my bike down to Hains Point, one of my favorite gems in the city, to play some tennis or golf and hang out by the waterfront with a good book. I’d then bop around the city visiting my favorite restaurant and bar haunts around town (there are too many to count) before heading to Domestique, which is an amazing natural wine shop on North Capitol. Eric and Saman there are the very best and they are always up for helping you figure out what to drink for whatever occasion. I’d pick up a six-pack of wine from there and then gather my closest friends and cook, eat, and hang out in my string-lit backyard, light a fire, and finish the evening with some amaro and great music.

Rachel: That sounds like a great day! What’s your favorite way to relax at the end of a busy week? 

Erika: Being outside really breathes life and energy back into me and I’m thankful my townhouse provides some outdoor space. I’ll usually play around barefoot in my garden or sit on my porch with a little cocktail and people watch. My favorite Fridays are spent celebrating Shabbat and life surrounded by amazing food and incredible people, like my friend Maya Oren a Jewish DC creative/photographer.

Rachel: What’s one thing you can’t get through the day without? 

Erika: My friends and family – they are truly my everything! 

Rachel: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? 

Erika: There are two best pieces of advice that I live by – be present, and don’t worry about things that you can’t control. Simple but key! 

Rachel: Have you developed any new hobbies during the pandemic? 

Erika: Yes! I learned how to golf, which is really fun and something I’ll do a couple of times a week. Something that is not new, but that really ramped up in the pandemic is gardening. Every year we plant a huge garden in the front yard – everything from herbs to eggplant, tomatoes to cucumber. 

One other hobby of mine is antiquing. Growing up, we had antiques all over my home and it’s not something I really ever understood as a kid. But now, I have such an appreciation for them and my house is furnished with antiques that my parents have passed down or that I have found myself. In the pandemic especially, one of my favorite pastimes was going out safely and finding treasures in places like Charlottesville, the Jersey shore, Fredericksburg, and other spots where people might not be venturing as much and then bringing them back into the city to resell them.

I started an Instagram account with a dear friend of mine – @golden_repair. We got the name from the Japanese art form of Kintsugi, which is the mending of broken pottery with gold. It’s rooted in the idea that there is beauty in imperfection. It’s a beautiful concept and the same is true of antiques. You can find this beautiful decanter or an old curio cabinet with slight imperfections that deserve a good home. Sure, you could go out and buy the same thing new, or you could find beauty in something that has a rich history.

Rachel: I love that concept of reusing rather than buying anew.

Erika: Exactly. There are so many things you could find in an antique store that you’re already looking for and it’s typically made better and has a gorgeous history behind it.

One tradition that I’ve picked up comes from my Jewish grandmother Noni, who is a huge thrifter. She has this mentality when she goes into antique stores that if she ever sees a menorah or other type of Judaica, she will buy it because she knows they once lived in a home owned by a little old Jewish grandma just like herself. She wants to make sure that these beautiful things aren’t forgotten collecting dust on a shelf somewhere. 

Rachel: When Jews of DC gather… 

Erika: …there will always be a dispute about where you can find the best bagels in DC. My allegiance lies with Pearl’s.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.