Erica Allen, 35, is the curricular chair for middle school Judaics at Krieger Schechter Day School.
She grew up in Westchester County, N.Y., where she was part of a Conservative synagogue and attended an Orthodox day school from fourth grade to eighth grade. After high school, she studied history with a concentration in religion at Wesleyan University. For a period of time, she thought she might go into working in a museum, but she eventually decided to pursue a career in education instead.
After college, she worked as a fellow at American Hebrew Academy, a now-closed Jewish boarding school in North Carolina, and then as an assistant teacher at the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital (formerly the Jewish Primary Day School), before moving to Baltimore.
She now lives in Bolton Hill with her husband, Eli, and 2-year-old son, Ariel. They belong to Chizuk Amuno Congregation and Beth Am. She has also previously been involved in Bayitt, Beth Am’s young professional group, and Jews United for Justice.
How did you wind up at Krieger Schechter?
I decided when I was at the Jewish Primary Day School to pursue a degree in Jewish education. I worked with another teacher who was really inspirational. The closest degree program was at Towson at the Baltimore Hebrew Institute and I could commute there, so I ended up commuting and then eventually moving to Baltimore and finishing my degree, and they helped match me up with Krieger Schechter for my internship. That’s what brought me to Krieger Schechter.
At what point did you decide to become an educator rather than do museum work?
I kept both of them in mind my first couple of years out of college, but after talking to some people in the museum field — I did a summer internship right after I graduated at the Deerfield museum in Massachusetts, so I got to talk to a lot of museum people, museum educators, museum interpreters — and I realized that museum work is a much harder field to get into and my interests were much more in the education side of things.
How does teaching kids during their b’nai mitzvah years shape how you teach them?
It’s less about the b’nai mitzvah and more about, just beyond the b’nai mitzvah, middle school is a pivotal time in your Jewish identity. It makes sense that this is when kids become bar and bat mitzvah because it’s all about taking on your role in the Jewish community, and as you hit middle school, you’re able to also think more critically, think more personally, make your own decisions, more about how you understand and practice Judaism. So that’s very much a part of the classroom, at least for me. It’s part of my classroom as well to help students understand that there are lots of different ways to understand text, to understand our tradition, to build personal connections to it, to help them build those connections. An important part about becoming bar mitzvah, about becoming a contributing member of the Jewish community, is thinking about your personal place in the Jewish story.
Is there anything in particular you like to teach your students around the High Holidays?
I like to do a combination of experience learning and thinking, and also a big part of my classroom is loving our tradition, so we do a lot of fun things also. We’ve done things with food puns around Rosh Hashanah because that’s a traditional way to have fun with the new year. But we also do thinking around the concept of repentance and what it means to do teshuvah and return to your best self.