Talia Leman
Photo: Efi Sharir
16 and taking on the world
Talia Leman founded her first charity at age of 10. By 16 she had already managed to donate tens of millions of dollars, become celebrity in US – even being marked as future presidential candidate. Now she's on heritage trip in Israel, looking for people who need her help
Talia Leman, 16, has already met with quite a few world leaders and VIPs, but one meeting was especially touching for her. A meeting with the person who changed the world and took part in the technological revolution – and he's not even the head of a country.


"I was very excited to meet Bill Gates," recalls Leman. "We only had a few minutes to talk, but they were minutes that I take with me.


"I have a lot of appreciation for that amazing man – he's involved in so many medical projects around the world, a truly inspirational person in my opinion. I hope that one day his charity and my volunteer organization will be able to do a project together."


Yes, at just 16 years old this young woman heads a major charity. Her career as a philanthropist started when Leman was 10 years old – watching the news she saw the horrific images caused by hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.


"I felt that I had to do something," she says. "Everybody was talking about how something needed to be done but I felt that we needed to take action and not just talk.


Door-to-door charity

"I went to my mother, told her about my idea, and instead of being one of those parents who tell their kids: 'Great honey, now go to bed', she asked how she could help and took me seriously.


"I spoke to my brother who's a few years older than me and we thought up the idea of dedicating 'trick or treat' for charity – going from house to house and asking people to donate money instead of candy.


Then we established the Random Kid organization, I became the CEO and my brother got the title of director and we were on our way."


Leman's idea was a huge success. The kids went from door to door collecting money and they launched a website raising funds online. A television interview and newspaper coverage made Talia a star in the US and her foundation a success story.


Soon the donations were piling up to – no exaggeration - more than $10 million. The money was given as a donation to the residents of New Orleans who lost their belongings in the hurricane. But that was not the end of the story, if anything it only left Leman wanting to do more.


"My grandfather is a Holocaust survivor," she explains, "He always offers to pay for everyone for everything. I asked him once why he always offers to pay and he told me: 'because I can, so why not?' And that's the model I adopted – If I can, why not?"


School can wait

By the time she was 12-years-old Leman became a major celebrity in the US and decided to use her success for other charitable work. "The Today show talked about us," she remembers. "After that nearly the whole country knew about our project."


With all your activities, what did you do about school?


"It wasn't easy because I was travelling around the world to spread the word about our organization, and I missed quite a few days, but they were considerate let me take tests early and make-up lessons. It wasn't easy but I founded an organization and needed to work hard to promote it."


Talia's organization helps people between the ages of five and 25. "Our goal is to take all the good there is in kids and use it to make the world a better place. We don't make any profit but we try to help as many people as we can, whether it's homeless people, sick people or people who don't have clean water, which is our most recent project."


And what's your ultimate goal, to change the world?


"To show that each and every one has the power to make a difference, you too. We give young people the means and the power to change the world. You can donate one dollar to Haiti and finish with it, or you can give that dollar to a kid who will go do things with it that make it worth $10 and that way you're giving more. We are looking to start a project in Israel and would be happy to hear suggestions for cooperation."


At 16, Leman has already been marked as a possible future US presidential candidate by some major US newspapers and some writers would be happy to see her sitting in that chair today. Yet she herself is not too thrilled by the idea.


"A smart man once told me we can make as much of a difference as the government," she says. "If a group of children were to come up to the government and say it wants clean drinking water, no government will be able to look them in the eyes and say no. We are as strong as a major company. As for the president's job, I need to think about it."


I don't have the right to vote in the US but you have my vote.


"Wait, I still have to go to college and get my diploma, and then we'll see."


Talia' is in Israel through the Lapid organization, and organization that focuses on strengthening the bond between teenage Jews from around the world and Judaism and Israel. Together with other teens she will take part in a special educational program, tour various sites in Israel and go through a process that will get her closer to her Jewish roots.


"So far I'm touring Israel and discovering it," notes Leman. "For six weeks we just take tours seeing incredible things. For me, the main thing is meeting people, because this is my first time in Israel."


What did you think about us before you came here?


"Before I took the preparation course for this trip, people spoke a lot about Israel and I didn't understand how you could talk so much about a country and be so in love with it.


"But when you get here all of a sudden these special feelings wake up inside, you can't not love this place. Lots of people told me not to come, that it's dangerous here and that it's a sensitive region but when I get back I intend to tell them that every Jew has to visit."


What about aliyah?


"Good question. At the moment I can honestly say I don't think it will happen but who knows, I'm only 16".


And what about an Israeli boyfriend? Is there a chance?


"Why not? I wouldn't rule it out."



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