New Jewish Holiday Toy: ‘Mensch on a Bench’

October 14, 2013 9:26 am 4 comments

Moshe the Mensch, the newly offered "Mensch on a Bench." Photo: The Mensch on a Bench.

JNS.orgWhen his son asked for The Elf on the Shelf—the famed Christmas toy that is said to keep an eye on children and report back to Santa Claus regarding their behavior—entrepreneur Neal Hoffman says he felt an admitted pang of “elf envy” and saw the need to offer something more appropriate.

“I said to myself that I wished there was a toy and book that was an alternative, that was rooted in Jewish traditions,” Hoffman tellsJNS.org.

Hoffman, at the time an employee of the Hasbro toy and game company, would go on to create a new toy to ensure that those celebrating Hanukkah wouldn’t experience the same “elf envy.”

With roots tracing back to the 1970s, The Elf on the Shelf has sold nearly 2.5 million units. The elf has now met its Jewish match through Hoffman’s The Mensch on a Bench, a toy and book set based on the story of the character “Moshe the Mensch.” Available for the first time this Hanukkah, the set costs $36 (plus shipping and handling).

Using the popular crowd-funding website Kickstarter to raise money (in Jewish-appropriate denominations of $18) Hoffman brought his dream of a Jewish judge of childhood behavior to life. The book that comes with Moshe explains that this savvy tzaddik was in the Temple with the Maccabees when they defeated the Greeks in the second century BCE. As the age-old story goes, there was only sufficient oil for one night, but it lasted for eight. How? Moshe volunteered to sit on a bench all night and keep an eye on it. Thousands of years later, Moshe is still on a bench and still watching over Hanukkah, much like The Elf on the Shelf watches over Christmas.

Hoffman, a Massachusetts native who now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, explains that as a father of two in an interfaith household, he was well familiar with The Elf on the Shelf from his nieces and nephews. When his son asked for one, he says he initially laughed off his idea for a Hanukkah-themed alternative to the toy, but the idea kept coming back until he could resist it no longer.

While Hoffman sees The Elf on the Shelf as a symbol of the commercialism of a holiday, he suggests that Moshe the Mensch is a keeper of the eternal traditions of Judaism.

“The Elf is more secular and not as religious, just pure fun,” he says.

Moshe may not be an “answer” to the elf, but it is an “alternative” that is appropriate for Jewish children and allows them to create their own Hanukkah tradition, Hoffman says.

Hoffman used his years of experience at Habsro—where he worked (and played) with the legendary likes of G.I. Joe and the Transformers—to his advantage for creating The Mensch on a Bench. Yet the experience was different than anything he had done before, he says.

“This was the first time I had to take an idea and figure out everything, including the design, engineering, packaging, marketing, fundraising, Web development, and timeline management,” Hoffman recalls. “It really made me appreciate the caliber of people I had worked with in the past.”

While he didn’t have his former Hasbro colleagues working with him, Hoffman was far from alone. He quickly found fans on Facebook and backers on Kickstarter, and says his biggest support came from his family. The passion for Moshe the Mensch was immediately “contagious,” he says.

In an effort to explain Moshe to the masses, Hoffman hurried to come up with a believable backstory, and created the book to accompany the toy.

“The book is inspired by the story of Hanukkah,” Hoffman says. “It tells about how the Maccabees came back to the Temple and were tired from the war and needed to sleep. With only one night of oil, they were worried it would go out overnight and leave them in the dark. One man volunteered to watch over the lights: Moshe the Mensch.”

To give Moshe and his story more staying power and appeal, the book also includes activities for each of the eight nights of the holiday. Hoffman hopes to bring the book not only to his local library, but also to the Jewish literacy nonprofit PJ Library, which to date has delivered more than 3 million books to youths. He also says sequels are possible.

“There are still a lot of words that rhyme with ‘mensch’ that we can work with,” Hoffman says.

In the meantime, Hoffman is looking forward to opening his own Moshe on the first night of Hanukkah (Nov. 27).

“I think we have a fun idea that Jewish families can rally around and use to make Hanukkah more fun,” Hoffman says. “Over the next couple years, Jewish families will decide if this is a great idea and something they want, or if the Mensch will become a rare collectors item.”

4 Comments

  • Has anyone heard of Maccabee On The Mantel.. I just ordered that.. But not sure. I had not heard of Mensch before reading this so I cause there are a few Jewish Elf on the Shelves.

  • This man did not come up with an alternative; he outright plagiarized! He stole an idea from someone else & he is trying to steal special holiday traditions from Christians. Light your candles & celebrate Hanukkah but do not use others’ beliefs or traditions & stop trying to capitalize Christmas. This is ridiculous and shame on that man for not being able to create fun for his son & teach him that he does not need to have “elf envy”.

    • Have a sense of humor and a spirit of sharing in the fun of the next few months…. you take yourself way too seriously!

  • Grandma Susan

    What a wonderful idea! Mazeltov to Neal Hoffman and his family — may they all live long, happy and healthy lives!

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.