Originally I was going to title this post “Mensch On A Bench Gives The Elf On A Shelf Some Competition.” but given the relatively small amount of Jews and the growing number of mixed marriages, ‘company’ was a more appropriate term for the new holiday combination book and toy.
NPR reports that during a visit to a store last holiday season, Jewish father Neal Hoffman felt bad telling his son Jake that he couldn’t have an The Elf on the Shelf . The widely popular Christmas toy is intended to watch children’s behavior for Santa. Hoffman kept thinking, maybe there could be something similar, but rooted in Jewish tradition.
above: Neal Hoffman with the toy inspired by his son.
Hoffman, a former Hasbro employee, decided Mensch on a Bench was the answer. “A mensch means a really good person. It’s a person that you strive to be,” he says.
He raised more than $20,000, using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, last spring. Since then, the interest has been tremendous. After the product arrived “we sold out in two weeks,” Hoffman tells Michel Martin, host of NPR’s Tell Me More.
above: In a few short years, the “Elf on the Shelf” picture book and accompanying elf doll transformed from a local Atlanta phenomenon to a national sensation sold in 12,000+ stores. About 2.5 million had been sold by December 2011.
Hoffman decided early on that Mensch on a Bench wouldn’t be just a toy. An accompanying book is inspired by the story of Hanukkah.
In it, a fictional character called Moshe tells Judah and the Maccabees he will watch over the oil while they sleep in the Temple. “They say, oh Moshe, thank you so much. You’re such a mensch sitting on that bench, watching over the oil!”
above: Jake Hoffman inspired his father to create Mensch on a Bench.
He also created eight rules for having a mensch. “They range from singing and playing dreidel and doing latkes with your family, to having the mensch watch over your menorah. … Also, one night of Hanukkah, you’re not going to get presents. You’re going to go out … buy presents for somebody in need, and you’re going to give them to somebody else.”
Mensch on the Bench tells the story of Moshe the Mensch, who was in the temple with the Maccabees when they won the war against the Greeks. There was only enough oil for one night and everyone was exhausted from the war and wanted to go to sleep. But what if the oil went out while the Jews were sleeping?
From the back of the temple, Moshe offered to stay up all night and watch the oil. He would sit on the bench all night. Judah called him a Mensch…and a child joked “The Mensch on the Bench” and so the name stuck.
The Mensch on the Bench book and doll tells the 8 rules of having a Mensch, which are meant to drive more jewish family traditions and re-enforce the values we want to hand down to our children.