Elisheva Rishon’s design empowerment reflects her experience as a Black Orthodox Jew.
“One of my best sellers is the ‘Hashem love you’ T-shirt,” explained Elisheva Rishon, a Modern Orthodox Jewish fashion designer behind Eli7 Designs. “And that is very good. It tells me that people not only want to feel loved, but also to tell others that they are loved,” he explained. “I didn’t make a shirt that said ‘Hashem loves me’ because it was selfish – I make ‘Hashem love you’ to make others feel good. “
Launched in 2019, Eli7 Designs showcases clothing and accessories with slogans designed to help people feel good about their identity and uplifted. Elisheva was inspired by her own life experience as a Black Orthodox Jewish woman and as a millennial who had spent a lifetime nurturing her spirituality.
Feeling positive about herself is not an emotion that Elisheva often feels grew up in the Orthodox Jewish community in New York where she was often ridiculed and insulted because of the color of her skin. “My childhood was difficult,” he explained in an exclusive Aish.com interview recently.
Elisheva and her four siblings grew up in a tight Jewish community in Brooklyn in the 1990s and early 2000s. His father was African-American and converted to Orthodox Judaism; his black mother grew up in a traditional Jewish house and became religious when he grew up. Elisheva had noticed because of her black traits that people often asked about her own bloodline, always suspecting that she was not really Jewish. “My mother’s family has been back for years – people always ask.” It was just one of many insults he had received over the years.
“When I was a child I didn’t realize that the whole world was not Jewish,” he recalled. He also did not see the difference in skin color between him and his friends. He and his brothers loved everything about being Jewish. They will spend hours singing Jewish songs, pretending to pray from a Siddur, and say Shabbat shalom to whoever he sees.
Elisheva was eight years old when she realized for the first time that some people saw her differently because of the color of her skin. At Shabbat, many children in his synagogue used to go out to play together while their parents prayed inside. One day, a group of girls refused to play ball with him. When Elisheva asked why they told her that she was “dirty”. Elisheva was confused: she was not dirty, he explained. Instead, he wore the most beautiful Shabbat clothes. He even just washed his hands. The children tell him that he is “dirty” because he is black and runs away laughing.
That moment is a turning point. Elisheva remembers going home and seeing herself in the mirror, her self-esteem dropped. It was still a painful incident that he remembered clearly today.
There is another insult. He remembers attending Shabbaton when a synagogue janitor refused to let him in. He insisted he could not become a Jew, despite the fact that Elisheva was clearly all dressed and ready for Shabbat. What hurts the most is the fact that while his friends sympathize with him afterwards, no one is brave enough to help him at this time. “People sometimes come to me twenty minutes later after an anti-black racist incident happens and say ‘wow that’s crazy’, but it hurts, no one intervenes when it happens.” Elisheva explained that the hats that he and other Black Jews – or anyone who were targeted and were told were not part of – needed not so much sympathy after the fact, but for people to defend them when they were insulted or humiliated or made to feel out of place.
When Elisheva was nineteen, she entered a “dating scene”, contacting a matchmaker to help her find a man to date. That process makes it a little more painful. His matchmaker insisted on setting him up with a much older man who had serious luggage. After one very dangerous date, Elisheva was confronted by a matchmaker who said it bluntly: because he was black, he could not hope to be treated like any other Jew. Elisheva withdrew from the dating scene.
One of the ways Elisheva handled racism she faced was through fashion. “Fashion is a way to express yourself. Through my clothes, I can turn negative to positive at a very young age. “He developed a talent for putting clothes together and noticed that people seemed to be attracted to him because of his clothes. “I would wear gloves in the 1920s, or a hat, or mix and match patterns and people would comment ‘wow I like that, where did you get it?’ Fashion attracts them to say something besides my skin color. “
He also noticed that fashion can change people’s moods and make them feel happy. “I just want them to be happy,” he explained.
When Elisheva enrolled at Brooklyn College to study history, she began to feel good about her performance for the first time in her life. “A student once commented that I have ‘beautiful Nubian princess skin.'” He did not know what that meant and had to look for it. That means Black in a beautiful way. “I began to see myself in a different light,” he recalled. It was the first time he was praised for his dark skin.
In 2019, Elisheva launched its own brand, Eli7 Designs. He had an idea for the name of his company since childhood. By that time, he had moved to Los Angeles and his clothes and accessories were relaxed. He designs shirts with slogans like “Gam Zu L’Tova“In Hebrew, which means” Everything is for the Good “, a mug that reads” Self-Care = Love “, and a handbag that reads” Malka. Point. “Use the Hebrew word for queen. Elisheva explains the meaning behind the slogan:” Because all Jewish girls / women are queens, PERIOD. “And no one can make you feel like a queen. Many other slogans also empower.
He also has products aimed at black customers and those who are black and Jewish. One t-shirt that says “Jewish. Yes, I really do. Please stop asking,” a sentence Elisheva wants to repeat to many people over the years. The section on this website gives advice to “frum” customers (Orthodox Jews) who might want to wear short-sleeved shirts that are displayed on the website, he gives specific advice on how to coat and pair items to make it simple, using his years to present himself fashionably in an Orthodox Jewish context.
Elisheva explained that she took her creative inspiration from two places. “The first place is my whole life – I know how people are made to feel bad about certain parts of their identity.” The design is intended to counteract some negative messages
that people hear and give positive encouragement. “I will kill to have things that make me happy about myself as a teenager and child.”
Their second inspiration was “extraordinary people I have met all my life.” Elisheva explained that she met countless Jewish girls who embodied the Jewish obligation to live a good life and treat everyone well. “They don’t have hatred in their bones. They are really good people, they are very extraordinary. These are the people I have met in my life who understand what it means to be an Orthodox Jew. These people are also part of my design process. “
He also tried to combine Jewish values tzniut, or politeness, in its design. For Elisheva, the command to be humble is spiritual as well as physical. Eli7 Designs began to boom, and Elisheva soon added more products, showing pictures of herself using her latest designs on her website. But then he started to get “nasty” comments on his website questioning why he was using the Black model.
“I made a post and said ‘hey, the reason there is a black girl in all the pictures is – it’s me!'” The response to his post surprised him. “I lost more than 300 followers. I canceled several dozen orders. All of my collaborations are canceled. I was devastated. “That experience made Elisheva feel like she lived in the 1950s.
He also began receiving harassing anti-black racist emails. It became so bad that he had a friend open an email for him; the amount of hateful emails downplayed the emails and orders he actually received. His business dropped for several months. “I shouted at myself, saying ‘Elisheva you are so stupid, why do you tell people that you are black?'”
In recent months, he has slowly begun to rebuild his brand. “I get real and actual followers who don’t care what color my skin is.” Women have begun to reach out to him to thank him for being a role model for Black Jews and for creating products aimed at Black Jewish women. “I now hear more positive things than in my entire life.”
When the United States had begun a national dialogue on race, Elisheva felt a deep sense of relief. “Finally in the last few months we Black Jews can speak our truth … I feel people are more interested in what everyone is saying.” He likened to Black and Jewish to carry heavy piles of stone. Black Jews have a burden that is not favored by anti-Semites because they are Jews, dealing with anti-black racists and difficulties facing racism from within in the Jewish world. He finally felt that some of the burden was shared.
“People finally feel safe enough to talk. I will hope that this continues and that they continue to let us talk. “
Elisheva has some concrete suggestions for people who want to be more sensitive and inclusive. If you see someone being targeted or harassed because of their skin color or for other reasons, talk. Don’t excuse the behavior, and don’t try to minimize or ignore it. Don’t try to rationalize racist, cruel or degrading actions. Think about how you want others to defend you. Don’t use the term insult, and talk when others do it.
“Nothing is real ahavat Yisrael (love of fellow Jews) when we don’t defend Black Jews, “Elisheva said. “Sisters must stand with sisters, you must stand with brothers.” Elisheva explained that she hoped to build a Jewish family one day, God willing, and she did not want her children to experience the pain she was experiencing herself. “There is so much potential, so many good things to do,” he felt. “We have to wake up.”
Elisheva felt that the current “Three Weeks” period, between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, was the right time to work to love fellow Jews. “We have weeks of mourning before Tisha B’Av because of Sinam Chinam (baseless hatred) – because Jews don’t love each other as they should. And when Jews don’t love each other it makes us weak and it makes us very easy for them who hates us to hurt us. This is the right time for all of us to make serious introspection. “