Bat Mitzvah Girls can’t get enough of YALDAH
Four months ago, an internationally known editor moved to Sharon, setting up operation in her home of Yaldah, a 48-page publication, inspired by American Girl.
The idea for Yaldah (meaning girl in Hebrew) came after the editor, 14-year-old Leah Larson, failed to win an American Girl cover contest .
In November 2003, she began creating her own magazine for girls between the ages of 8 and 14 and last September the first issue was launched. Within two months, the 200 printed copies were sold out.
The publication’s mission “to provide a wholesome magazine for Jewish girls by Jewish girls that doesn’t focus on what other teen magazines focus on, like celebrities, how you look on the outside, or beauty tips. It celebrates creativity, Jewish life and values,” says Leah.
A view of her room, with light purple walls and a whimsical magenta rug, shows that Leah is a typical teenage girl in many respects. Yet that image recedes as she sits at her computer desk lined with organized shelves dubbed Yaldah Central. Here she wears the many hats needed to crank out a quarterly magazine, now in its second year. She is editor, writer, photographer, illustrator, layout designer, distributor, public relations director, business manager and Webmaster.
“I’m more of a behind the scenes kind of person,” says Leah, soft spoken and reserved by nature. “At my Bat Mitzvah, reading my speech was very hard.”
Now she is speaking on radio and television. The Boston Globe and The Jerusalem Post ran articles about her accomplishments and Channel 7 interviewed her last December for their Jewish Perspective segment.
Leah started her writing career at the age of 4 1/2 when her first poem was published in the Natick Tab. Entering contests with her writing, art and photos became a passionate hobby. In 2004 she received the Grand Prize and $1,800 for an essay she wrote on Jewish values. She is a two time short story contest winner for American Girl magazine and won $300 for her story in New Moon.
Creativity seems to runs in her family. Her grandmother and her mother are both writers. Her mother, Evelyn Krieger, has written for Family Fun, Learning and Baby Talk magazine among others. A reading specialist, Leah’s mom authored a book about reading and writing for teachers. Leah’s father does visual arts and photography and Leah’s paternal grandmother is a painter. Leah’s 11-year-old brother, Sam, won two writing awards in the first grade and her 7-year-old sister, Audrey, is already showing a gift for drawing.
It takes more than natural talent to pioneer a magazine. Leah devotes three hours each day putting the magazine together, and in the summer, up to eight hours.
“I have to watch out for her,” said her mother. “We have the same personality and tend to do too many things. I ask her, ‘Are you sure you want to do that, too?'”
Leah’s family persuaded her to take time off to attend camp for the first time this summer. For eight days she went to Camp Gan Israel in Wisconsin, far away from e-mails and deadlines.
At camp, Leah met one of her 350 subscribers. They come from everywhere in the U.S. and as far as Israel, Canada, and Switzerland. Leah’s September letter in American Girl about Yaldah launched an avalanche of e-mails to her Web site from Jewish and non-Jewish girls inspired by her story. They asked for her advice on starting their own newspapers and newsletters.
Although Leah wrote most of the articles in the first issue, she now relies on an editorial board of 14 girls, who live in Massachusetts and as far away as London. Board members test recipes, contribute stories and conduct interviews about Jewish girls living in places like Uruguay or New Zealand.
Chava Resnick, an 11-year-old Sharon resident, is a member of the board. Before moving from Holliston to Sharon, Leah contacted Chava’s mother Yael Resnick, the editor of “Natural Jewish Parenting” for publishing tips. Chava’s poem, “Music” appeared in the second issue of Yaldah and a fictional story she wrote about babysitting will be in the next issue.
During distribution periods, Chava heads over to Leah’s house to help paste labels and prepare the magazines for mailing. Leah and Chava are choosing to be home schooled this year; Leah for ninth grade, and Chava for sixth grade.
“She has an idea and goes through with it. She’s very motivated, very energetic.,” said Chava about the key to Leah’s success.
In July, Leah approached the Sharon Library about subscribing to her magazine. They took a subscription and took her on as a presenter to The Eagle Eye Reporters. Expecting a small audience of eight kids, she was overwhelmed at the turnout of 30 participants, many of whom she invited to become future contributors to her magazine.
YALDAH is available in our Online Store. It is geared for Jewish girls ages 8-15 and makes a great Bat Mitzvah gift.