Did Emily and Aaron Alhadeff’s parents realize they were matchmaking when they decided to send their kids to the SJCC Early Childhood School? Probably not, says Aaron with a laugh—it just turned out to be an added bonus.
The couple became good friends in preschool (“we’re standing next to each other in every one of our class pictures,” Emily says) and stayed connected over the years. In fourth grade, Emily wrote Aaron that classic elementary school note of romantic angst: “Do you like me? Check yes or no.” The rest, as they say, is SJCC history.
When Aaron returned to Seattle after college, the J was the first place he volunteered. It was a natural step, given how connected both he and Emily had been over the years. They both went to J Camp, Aaron participated in the JCC Maccabi Games (a Jewish Olympics-style competition), and he later went on to serve as the J’s board president, from 2012-14. When they had kids, they knew they’d send them to preschool at the J. “There wasn’t even a thought to go anywhere else,” Emily says.
Several of their preschool friends had kids in ECS around the same time, and Emily and Aaron watched as their kids began forming the same types of lasting friendships they had. Plus, their parents would come to events alongside the same friends they used to see when Emily and Aaron’s generation was in preschool, but now they were attending as grandparents. “It really came full circle for all of us,” Aaron says.
As their kids have gotten older—Max is 13 and Charlie is 11—the J isn’t as integrated into their daily lives as it once was, but it’s an organization they’re still dedicated to supporting. “We realized that if neither of us ever stepped foot in here again—never went to another carnival or film festival or had another kid in any program—it was still an important place to support, because it remains a backbone for community and continuity for everyone,” Aaron says.
This community has helped shaped so much of their lives, and they want those strong connections to be available to everyone – whether they’re Jewish or not, whether they have generations of Seattle roots or just moved here last week. “Knowing there’s a place with a low barrier point of entry that’s accepting of everyone, where finances don’t need to be a barrier, and that’s welcoming from both a Jewish perspective and a human perspective is extremely important to us,” Aaron says.
As their kids grow up, Emily and Aaron are confident the boys will stay connected to the J. It’s so woven into the fabric of their family, they don’t feel the need to tell their kids the importance of the organization. Rather, they show them through their active involvement. “They just know. It’s organic.” Emily says. “As long as they can remember, the J has been in their lives.”
The J has had an invaluable impact on their lives, and they know it’s been the same for countless families over the years. “We’re not a unique story,” Aaron says. “But we are representative of a lot of the good the J does—both that we’ve been able to give and to receive. For us, for our parents, and for our kids.”