Leah Larson Caras was only 13 when she started YALDAH, a magazine by and for Jewish girls.
“I looked around for such a magazine and I couldn’t find one, so I figured that there must be other girls out there looking for the same thing,” she told NJ Jewish News.
Eight years later, the magazine’s quarterly print and on-line editions have flourished, winning thousands of readers and garnering award after award.
Caras is now 21, married, and a graphic designer living in Brooklyn. That might have crimped her ability to reach the magazine’s target age group, but she has a sure way to stay attuned: Youngsters still run the show.
The magazine, based in Sharon, Mass., draws its 20 adolescent editorial board members — all contributors in one way or another — from around the country and abroad. This year’s selection, announced in March, includes four New Jerseyans.
Three are students at the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth — Sophia Berman and Tzippora Schapiro, both 15, who attend Bruriah High School for Girls, and Ariel Ezra, 11, who attends the JEC Yeshiva. Michal Moore, 12, attends Shalom Torah Academy of East Windsor.
“We’re obviously looking for girls with talent, girls who stand out as writers, illustrators, photographers, etc.,” said Caras. “It’s also very important to us to find girls who are responsible, can meet deadlines, and have held leadership positions before. Even if a girl is a fantastic writer, it’s worth nothing if she can’t get her writing in on time. We also want the board to represent our readers, so we try to choose a board with diverse ages, locations, and backgrounds.”
Caras, who is Orthodox, founded the magazine as an alternative to teen magazines edited by adults for children and teens. The content is consistent with values taught in the observant world, with recent articles on “Modest, Stylish & Affordable” fashion, a student’s account of her summer in Israel, and mitzva projects by girls celebrating their b’not mitzva.
Caras likes to tell her staff and her readers — as she does in her latest on-line “YALDAH Minute:” “If you can dream it, you can do it. You’re never too young to change the world.”
NJ Jewish News e-mailed questions to the four NJ board members.
Ariel Ezra, the youngest of the group, was chosen to write recipes. She told NJJN, “I enjoy cooking, and my father is the pastry chef at Basil in Crown Heights, so I come from a house with good cooking.
“I’m a really good writer,” she said, “so I use that talent to help me write the recipes. I’m also interested in fashion and interior design, so that helps me lay out the dish on the plate.”
Ariel also noted the feeling of responsibility her new role gives her. “It really helps me feel very independent — that other people are relying on me to meet the deadlines, and to give it all I have to offer,” she said. “It’s also really fun to work with other girls from other places on one big project that in the end is a beautiful masterpiece.”
Sophia Berman said she isn’t much of a reader and therefore, though her friends had read YALDAH and “were very into it,” she wasn’t. But she does love writing, and — in high school — when she heard that they were looking for a writer, she jumped at the opportunity. “Once I applied, I read a bunch of the previous YALDAH issues, and I loved it right away.”
Sophia, who is a gymnast, is a perfectionist. “I feel I can’t hand in any essays or assignments for school unless it’s something that I really worked hard on and that I myself like. So to know that I have the privilege and the challenge now to write for someone else — a whole community of Jewish girls — and let them read my writings — the challenge excites me.”
Tzippora Schapiro said she likes the idea of writing articles for girls like herself and getting them published. “And I think YALDAH is great,” she added, “the whole idea of it is great, and it can really help and inspire people.”
She said, “I am definitely honored to be chosen as a board member, and honestly, a little surprised. When I applied, I didn’t seriously think I would get on, but now I love being part of it.”
Tzippora said she loves creating jokes and tries to put as much humor as she can into her writing. She has only written for one issue so far, so she isn’t claiming success yet. “I guess I can’t really decide if I did a good job of that — readers will have to judge,” she said.
Michal Moore was brief and to the point in answer to NJJN’s questions. She said, “I love reading, so when I heard about a Jewish magazine for girls by girls, it seemed almost too good to be true. I feel very honored to be chosen, and hope I can live up to my expectations.
She added, “I am very creative, and hope to use this and other talents to do my job well.”
Asked if there was anything new she would like to see happen, she had one suggestion: “I would love to have a get-together and see everyone in person.”