Toward the end of last year, Ashley O'Brien put her love of Hebrew, rap lyrics, puns and graphic design to good use by starting Hebrewish Designs, an Etsy shop that quickly went viral on Twitter, Instagram and beyond.
What started off as the source for pizza money has quickly grown into something much more. I had the chance to chat with Ashley about her designs, motivations, love for Israel and how all of these elements were combined to create something that we all need -- even if we never knew we needed it.
1. Why did you decide to start Hebrewish Designs?
I started this as a side project to create things for my friends and myself that I thought were funny, (at times maybe even hilarious), but, more seriously, as a way to learn Hebrew. I began taking formal Hebrew classes this year to learn the language and I would come up with ways to remember words, letters, or phrases by putting it into songs I knew or phrases I liked. I kept a running list as I continued to learn, and had more and more fun learning the language, as I did this. About a month ago, I decided to play around with some graphic design ideas I had, and I thought they looked pretty good.
I never really had any intention of making money or turning this into a business. I put a few designs up on Etsy because I already had the designs made, and figured maybe I could make an extra $10 a month and buy a pizza or something. Actually, it was just to buy pizza, ignore the something. A few big accounts picked up my stuff right away, so I just kept posting!
2. What's the process like for you when creating new designs and thinking of new ideas? What inspires you?
There is absolutely no method to the madness. I'll be listening to a song in traffic, responding to emails or anything, and I'll hear a word or phrase that will spark the next design. The most challenging part of the process is just writing down ideas and trying not to forget where I put them (shout out to Siri and the default iPhone notes app, post-its, and Chicago parking receipts!). Other times, I will come home after work and just try to brainstorm 10 or 20 ideas, and maybe I'll end up liking one or two of them. Once I think of an idea, I pretty much have a vision in my head immediately of what I want it to look like graphically. And for those who know me, just putting what I envision in my head into something other people are able to understand is a huge success story in and of itself.
I am pretty much inspired by everything. I started this with rap and hip-hop lyrics because I love it, but there's also a natural rhythm that I think works really well with Hebrew. I also like to challenge myself and have designs from all different genres of music, different quotes that I've reworked, and even influences from other areas of pop culture (mostly just Friends, but like I said, there is no limit to the inspiration).
My mind is constantly moving in 8,000 different directions, so it's incredibly rewarding to stop when I hit on something I like and create something that I'm proud of from it. Once I put a listing up on Etsy, I let my mind keep moving. Maybe this is a method, but I know for sure it's some sort of madness.
3. What has the experience been like thus far and what has been the highlight?
I'm just having fun with it for now. I enjoy creating things that I think are fun, funny, creative, and different, and hope that there are others out there that have a similar unique sense of humor/hip-hop lyrical knowledge. Also, no, I will not apologize for using the phrase "hip-hop lyrical knowledge." Next question.
Oh, and as for the highlight, thus far -- definitely getting retweeted by Yeezy. That was pretty awesome. Also, I'm assuming this won't get posted for a few days after this conversation, so I think it's fair to say that highlight will *probably* have happened by the time this is published. Whatup Yeezus!
4. Your designs started to go viral pretty quickly on social media. How have you continued that momentum?
I'm #blessed with the inability to get a full night's sleep. Some call it insomnia; I call it extra time to tweet and instagram and hope that people will share my stuff. Twitter and Instagram have been very successful at getting my designs around to people all over the world, and it's awesome when I get to send prints over to Germany or Australia. I'm not putting myself up there with "The Dress" and "Pizza Rat" yet, but I don't plan to stop creating or posting any time soon. I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's been awesome connecting with so many people around the world, the dress was definitely white and gold, and I hope Pizza Rat is safe at his subway home enjoying a slice with his rat friends and family.
5. When did you first feel a connection to Israel and how has that progressed?
I grew up at Camp Chi, a Jewish summer camp in Wisconsin. As a kid, it was the only Jewish thing I did all year. I credit Chi for providing me with a foundation for experiential Israel education and Israel-based experiences. It was through Chi (and my friends at Shorashim) that I even had a desire to go to Israel, but the first time I actually "got" Israel was when I went to visit. The history, the culture, the music, the food, the language, the -- vibes? I love every part of it. How has it progressed ... I ate Bamba for lunch today. That last sentence is true, and also a metaphor for my current place in life. I think I should have been born in Israel. Ugh, my mom is going to read this and call me as soon as she sees that last sentence. I'll keep going back to Israel to visit, and my goal is to make it there at least once a year. It's addictive, being there. But, maybe that's just the Bamba talking.
6. How has your experience been learning Hebrew? How do you foresee this progressing?
I never went to Hebrew school as a kid, which gives me a huge advantage as an adult since I don't hold any of those, what I can only describe as "'Nam-like," flashbacks of Hebrew school memories buried deep in my subconscious. I've been immersing myself in the language. I have a formal class once a week at the JCC's Say It In Hebrew program, but I listen to Israeli music at work, have language podcasts playing as I sit in traffic, keep a variety of language apps on my phone, and may or may not have labeled all the items in my apartment in Hebrew. From what I know about Hebrew in the short time I've been learning, the language itself is always progressing, so I guess I'll just have to never stop learning. Plus, the more Hebrew I know, the more hip-hop wordplay I'll be able to throw (down). You can edit that last line out if you want …
7. What's your favorite "Jewish" food?
Once this is online, I'll be sending it to my grandma, so I have to say my favorite Jewish food is anything she makes (Grandma, please send rugelach and matzo ball soup to Chicago!).
In 'addition' to my Jewish grandmother's authentic cooking, I consider myself an expert on the Israeli snack/candy market. My absolute favorite snack this time of year is Krembo. Also, if anyone knows where to get authentic shakshuka in Chicago, PLEASE let me know. Todah rabah!
8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do (or how do you Jew?) in Chicago?
I enjoy spending Friday nights with my friends and favorite local Chicago band: Rod Tuffcurls and the Bench Press (Bud Light L'Chaim!). We particularly enjoy their mash up of "Hava Nagilah" and "500 Miles" by The Proclaimers, and our night is only complete with a pizza oneg at Dimo's.