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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

YALDAH Magazine: An Interview with Leah Larson

We’re never too old or too young to pursue our dreams, and this week's amazing woman is certainly proof of that! Leah Larson is the founder and publisher of YALDAH Magazine, now in its sixth year. Leah started brainstorming about a magazine for Jewish girls at age 12...and she was just 13 when the first issue came out. The quarterly publication now has subscribers worldwide, an editorial board of talented girls, a small staff, and is available in select Barnes & Noble bookstores. All the content is brainstormed and created by young girls.

YALDAH’s mission is to inspire leadership and creativity, to celebrate Jewish girls and women, Jewish life, and Israel. The magazine also sponsors art and writing contests, girls’ summer and winter retreats, and unity projects. After receiving a monetary award from Wells Fargo bank in 2008, Leah created the imprint YM Books and released two books for girls.

Leah is the recipient of numerous honors and awards including Microsoft Start Something Amazing Award, Guardian Life Insurance Girls Going Great Scholarship, Milton Fisher Scholarship for Creativity and Innovation, Jewish Children International Power of Children Award, and Next Step Magazine Super Teen Award. She also started a freelance graphic design business, LL Design. Leah is a sophomore at Yeshiva University and recently received its “Point of Light” award.

I was really inspired by Leah’s dedication to pursuing her dream, and I was excited to talk to her about ways each of us can do so.

Shelly Rachanow: Tell us more about YALDAH Magazine?

Leah Larson: YALDAH magazine is a full-color, 64-page quarterly magazine for Jewish girls. Each issue includes articles, interviews, crafts, recipes, advice, true stories and fiction. All our content is brainstormed, written, edited, photographed and illustrated by young Jewish girls. We write about topics of interest to girls such as babysitting tips, starting middle school or cliques but also include articles with a Jewish slant like Rosh Hashanah recipes, a modest and stylish fashion column, and profiles of girls' Bat Mitzvah projects. We especially like to focus on profiling inspiring women and girls who are positively impacting the world. YALDAH’s mission is to inspire leadership and creativity, to celebrate Jewish girls and women, Jewish life, and Israel. In its seventh year, YALDAH has readers around the world and is sold in hundreds of bookstores including select Barnes & Noble stores.

Shelly Rachanow: What inspired you to create it?

Leah Larson: I was looking for a magazine to read myself! I loved reading magazines such as American Girl, but wished there was a magazine that I could relate to more with my Jewish lifestyle and values. Always a dreamer, at age 12 I started brainstorming what could go in the first issue of a magazine for Jewish girls. Once I had the table of contents, I asked myself, "why not go ahead and make this?" I didn't know much about publishing, but I learned from my mistakes, asked mentors for advice, and did a lot of googling. When I was 13 the first issue came out, and the adventure was just beginning. Seven years later, YALDAH has touched thousands of girls, keeps me busy at all hours, and is still continuing to grow.

Shelly Rachanow: What advice do you have for parents who are raising kids with big dreams and imaginations?

Leah Larson: Children naturally have big dreams and wild imaginations. It's hard to find children who don't frequent fantasy worlds, have tea with imaginary friends, and dream of being a ballerina or firefighter... or even a bird! The challenge is how to not squash that imagination as they grow older. I hate to say it, but I think school contributes a lot to teaching kids that there's one right answer and one right way to do things. Giving kids toys that inspire imagination and giving them lots of time for imaginative play is vital. I played with dolls until I was twelve and moved right into magazine publishing later that year!

I also think it's important to listen to kids. Hear their ideas and dreams and don't feel a need to introduce them to reality. I think the main reason I was able to publish a magazine at 13 is because I didn't know all the obstacles I would face. And lastly, support their dreams. Even if they seem unrealistic, you never know where they'll lead you. My parents thought my magazine idea was just a phase, but once they saw I was serious they've supported me every step of the way, and I'm incredibly thankful for that.

Shelly Rachanow: So often we tell ourselves we’re not good enough to achieve our dreams, perhaps saying, “I’m too young, too old, too un-educated, too fat,” or whatever the case may be. What have you learned from your own experiences that you want people to know?

Leah Larson: I learned never to let your age get in the way of your dreams. It was hard to get people to take me seriously at first, but once I proved my determination, people stopped paying attention to my young age. I also learned that when you empower children and give them responsibility, they really step up to the plate and are capable of so much more than we may think they are. We have a staff of editors, webmasters, marketing and publicity managers who are all under age 14 -- and they're doing an incredible job!

I also learned that you never know what you're good at or what you'll enjoy until you try it. I always enjoyed art but never would have imagined myself as a graphic designer. When I didn't have anyone else to do the magazine layout, I played around with photoshop and taught myself graphic design. I've found that I love it and now do freelance graphic design. So go explore, try something, teach yourself a new skill. Worst comes to worst, you'll know you don't like it! :-)

Shelly Rachanow: And last, the 'If Women Ran the World Blog' question for everyone - What would you do if you ran the world?

Leah Larson: I'd love to see a world where the pay-scale reflects people's impact on the world. Educators, non-profit workers, and inspirational leaders would be properly compensated for their hours of tireless work. Hollywood actresses and sports stars would be volunteers!

For more information, visit:

Website: http://www.yaldah.com/

Email: leah@yaldahmedia.com

Phone: 888-4-YALDAH

Twitter: @yaldahmag

Facebook: www.facebook.com/yaldahmagazine

Blog: yaldah-magazine.blogspot.com

Linked In: www.linkedin.com/pub/leah-larson/b/519/977

YouTube: www.youtube.com/yaldahmagazine