Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Some punk rockers integrate their Jewish identity into their music through food, the author of a new book on the topic told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, described the way different musicians express this connection. “One band is known for throwing gefilte fish in the mosh pit, and people at its concert slide around on it while dancing,” he recounted. “Another used to drink Manischewitz [sweet kosher] wine out of a shofar [the ram […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    The manager of Scotland’s Celtic soccer club lauded Israel, after his team won a match against the Jewish state’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night. Brendan Rodgers said at a post-match press conference: On behalf of the players, the people of Celtic and Scotland, Israel’s been fantastic for us. We came out here on Sunday, [and from] the hotel, the staff, we’ve been very, very warmly received. The atmosphere at the game was amazing and, obviously, one team has to lose, but you have a wonderful team here, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    For the second time, Israel will host the Jaffa Jazz Festival, according to Broadwayworld.com. The festival will unite 43 Israeli musicians and eight international artists for a three-day event. The program will include a special performance by an ensemble of top jazz students studying at Belgium’s Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, the Belgrade Music Academy in Serbia, Israel’s Rimon School of Music and the jazz program of the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv. There will also be a jazz show for children led by Israeli saxophonist […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    JNS.org – As a young boy growing up in Ashdod, Israel, Alon Day got his first go-kart at age 9. By 15, he was racing them. Less than a decade later, Day has become the first Israeli professional race car driver on the NASCAR circuit. He made history by competing in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 13. “Driving a race car is not like any other sport,” Day told JNS.org. “You are actually almost flying […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    The writer of a popular children’s television series will premiere an off-Broadway solo show called “Not That Jewish,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Written and performed by Monica Piper — the Emmy Award-winning showrunner of Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats” — the show is described as “the autobiographical telling of a Jew…’ish’ girl’s life.” “Not That Jewish” explores Piper’s Bronx upbringing in a show-business family, her comedy-club debut and her “almost” night with former Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. “Audiences can expect to leave laughed-out, a little teary-eyed and […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scotland’s Celtic soccer club will fly to Israel with the same private jet Madonna used while on tour, The Scotsman reported on Monday. According to the report, the team is heading for the Jewish state to compete against Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night, and will be transported in the customized, luxurious Boeing 757-200 that the pop icon used in New Zealand for her six-month Rebel Heart tour, which wrapped up in March. The plane is on loan from Greece-based GainJet Aviation and can accommodate 62 passengers. The […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Jewish actor Jonah Hill revealed on Wednesday morning that he had officiated the wedding of good friend and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. The “War Dogs” actor, 32, was a guest on Sirius XM’s The Howard Stern Show when the conversation turned to Levine’s July 2014 wedding to Victoria’s Secret model Behati Prinsloo. Hill said that after he was asked to officiate the nuptials, he started getting worried about the type of speech he was going to deliver. “I’m writing all these things, and then I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Music Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish indie singer Ezra Furman released a song on Wednesday that he said was dedicated to his grandfather, who escaped Nazi persecution. Furman told the website Consequence of Sound that the new track, called “The Refugee,” is his “first song entirely concerned with my Jewish background and present, a song dedicated to my grandfather who fled the Nazis, as well as to all of the refugees desperate for a home today.” He added, “May all the wanderers find the homes they seek, and […]

    Read more →