TORONTO – What started as a little bit of “elf envy” turned into the Jewish family’s answer to the Christmas tradition of the Elf on the Shelf – it’s Mensch on a Bench!
(And for those not familiar with the Yiddish word, mensch means a person of integrity and honour).
Like its Christmas cousin, the mensch also involves a picture book along with a stuffed toy that serves to watch over children, and families are invited to come up with a name. In the elf’s case–now more than 8 years on the market with millions sold–its job is to report back to Santa if kids have been naughty or nice. Parents are meant to secretly move the elf every night so children wake up to the elf in a new spot; the Mensch is also meant to be moved every day.
But the mensch is a bit different: Every day of Hanukkah, kids are told to give him a Shamash candle to hold, and use that candle to light the Menorah each night.
“Mensches are infused with Hanukkah magic. Make sure your kids know that if they behave, your Mensch will let go easily of the Shamash candle, but if they misbehave, he will hold it tight, and they may not get any presents,” reads one of the eight rules on the site.
Families who get a Mensch on a Bench are encouraged to take photos and share them on social media, including the Mensch’s Facebook page, where the story of Moshe the Mensch is described:
“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.”
Created by Massachusetts-native Neal Hoffman, who made toys like GI Joe and Transformers when he worked at Hasbro, the mensch was initially funded by a Kickstarter campaign and has had a successful reception ever since. Canadians can find the toys at stores like Indigo and Bed, Bath & Beyond.