Both Emily and Aaron Alhadeff shy away from being called the Seattle Jewish community’s up-and-coming power couple. But Emily is on the verge of taking the presidency of one of Seattle’s two largest and most visible organizations, and Aaron is a year from becoming president of the other.
That noted, however, they come by their titles honestly if we mention how this story really begins: At the Stroum Jewish Community Center’s preschool, where these two Seattle natives first met more than 30 years ago. Yes, they have known each other that long.
From there both attended the Jewish Day School, but then their paths diverged for a time — different high schools and colleges — but their paths still crossed at Temple De Hirsch Sinai’s religion school. That they would embed themselves and their children into Seattle’s Jewish community now feels natural to them.
“JFS has always been a part of my life,” says Emily, 35, who on July 1 will become president of the board of Jewish Family Service.
Her father, Dennis Warshal, was on the board when she was growing up. Her family used JFS for family counseling. And fresh out of school with a degree in social work, Emily’s first paying job was at JFS.
From there she worked at the Harborview trauma center and for the past few years has been a stay-at-home to her two kids, ages 5 and 2.
But she never really left JFS.
“When I was asked to be on the board I was just so honored, because to be so closely associated with that agency is so special,” Emily says. “Every employee that works for JFS is so completely dedicated to the mission, and that really translates in the work that they do.”
As board president, Emily’s main focus will be on fundraising, in part to shore up the $30-plus million strategic plan that includes JFS’s current $9 million building-expansion project.
“Everyone is feeling the pinch. Our institutional funding sources are not able to fund us in the ways that they’ve been able to in the past, and we need to rely more and more on individual donors,” she says.
“[Emily] is truly a person who cares very, very deeply about people who are in need, with her whole heart and soul,” said Ken Weinberg, CEO of JFS. “This is a young woman who really cares.”
Weinberg noted that as a social worker who worked “in the trenches,” Emily understands the needs of people who work in social service fields.
“She did not choose the easy path,” he said. “As a result of doing that she not only developed skills in working with people, it further developed her own empathy and it also developed her own understanding of what it means to be a staff person.”
After Aaron returned to Seattle from some time living in San Francisco, he went back to a place that he had spent so much time during his teen years: The Stroum JCC.
“When I came back, it was the first place I wanted to plug back in and give some of my time and energy,” he says.
As these things often happen, Aaron, 35, started on a committee and from there was asked to join the board. In 15 months he will become the JCC’s president.
“There are more and more Jewish people that aren’t affiliated at synagogues,” Aaron says. “The JCC is a natural place to plug in to get Jewish life and culture.”
Professionally, Aaron is president of Elttaes Enterprises, which focuses on investments and owns such local properties as the Majestic Bay Theater in Ballard. His parents and grandparents are longtime philanthropists in Seattle’s Jewish community, and even from an early age they instilled in him a desire to help people who don’t have what he does.
“I was always raised that it’s been a privilege and an honor to give back to our community,” Aaron says. “It’s not a burden or a tax.”
Judy Neuman, the JCC’s CEO, calls Aaron remarkable.
“The time and commitment and passion that Aaron has, specifically for the J, is just unparalleled. His heart and soul are in this place,” Neuman says. “If you need help, or you need an idea, or you just need an extra person to come and sit and think with you, he’s always there. He always answers the call.”