Girls magazine lands 11-year-old editor and $100,000

The open position for executive editor of Yaldah magazine stared 11-year-old Emily Gordis right in the face.

Having already published several articles in the “for Jewish girls, by Jewish girls” quarterly, and having launched two magazines of her own, Emily knew she was the perfect replacement for Yaldah founder, editor and publisher, 17-year-old Leah Larson.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve really loved to write,” says Emily, of Berkeley. “Being a writer has given me self-confidence, plus the Yaldah community is so warm and welcoming. It’s encouraged me to learn more about my religion. It’s really been a blessing for me.”

Reading magazines such as American Girl, Stone Soup and New Moon Girls inspired Emily to submit her work, a book review here and a recipe there. But she quickly recognized that those magazines were written for kids, but published by adults.

Yaldah, with an editorial board of girls under age 15, is quite the opposite. Writers, copy editors and illustrators live across the country and submit articles, chat and prep each 48-page issue via e-mail. Currently, the magazine has around 700 subscribers.

A typical full-color issue includes a fiction story, interview, craft, quiz, recipe, fashion page with modest clothes, a true story, advice column and features.

It’s a business model that recently caught the attention of Wells Fargo Bank, which awarded the $100,000 grand prize in its “Someday Stories” essay contest to Yaldah; an awards ceremony is slated for the Wells Fargo History Museum, 420 Montgomery St., San Francisco at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 10. The mother of Yaldah founder Leah Larson wrote the winning essay, and she will put all the winnings toward the expansion of the magazine.

Ten-year-old Sarah Engel of Piedmont joined the 2008 editorial board after a friend introduced her to Yaldah, which means “girl” in Hebrew. She started reading the magazine regularly and now submits her illustrations (most in colored pencil) to accompany the articles, poetry and quizzes inside.

“Yaldah has helped me to open my eyes to different styles of drawing,” says Sarah, whose family belongs to Congregation Beth Jacob in Oakland. “I feel privileged to be part of this great magazine that Jewish girls from all over the world can connect with each other and Judaism.”

For every issue of Yaldah, Emily is expected to contribute one article. That number usually increases as other assignments come in that need to be completed. She often collaborates with fellow writers, many of whom live outside of California.

She recently partnered with a fellow writer in Michigan to create “Starry Shabbos,” a list of star-themed activities to do during a Chanukah sleepover.

Going solo, Emily detailed her experience as a home-schooled student in the “True Story” section of Yaldah. She invites young readers into her home as she describes rolling out of bed, eating breakfast and sitting down for class at her dining room table.

“In my house, in the mild climate of Berkeley, school is family and family is school,” Emily wrote.”Classes, meals, games and everything else is a family thing. Our house is always buzzing with activity — once a friend even remarked our family was ‘kind of like a village.'”

When she’s not in class or writing for Yaldah, Emily is busy putting out The Wednesday Joy, an online magazine sent to family and friends. Each themed-issue includes articles and illustrations by Emily, a Q&A session with a selected reader and a serialized fiction story.

She also started The Village Weaver, a collection of poetry and stories, but halted its publishing so she could focus on the other two magazines.

“I love writing stories, graphic design and publishing,” Emily says. “Journal-ism plays a part in that too. Sometimes, it’s not even so much as writing the story that gets me excited, but conducting the interview for it.”

Is a journalism career in Emily’s future? She says it’s a definite possibility, but she wants to continue working for Yaldah to see if it’s the right profession for her. She’s got a dream job though — writing for American Girl.

As for role models, both literary and not, she’s got a few of those too: Yaldah editor and publisher Larson, famed artist Norman Rockwell and 15-year-old Nancy Yi Fan, author of the bestselling book, “Swordbird.”

While Emily enjoys reading tween books, specifically fantasies, other girls are busily reading her articles, something she says still hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

“Girls have written to me saying ‘I loved your article.’ At first, I was surprised and then it was exciting. I’m very proud to show my writing and have a place to be published,” Emily says.

And by the way, she got the executive editor job.