Elf On The Shelf Meets Jewish Counterpart: Mensch On A Bench

The popular holiday toy Elf on the Shelf now has a Jewish counterpart. It's called Mensch on a Bench. Host Michel Martin talks to the creator, Neal Hoffman, about how he came up with the idea.

During a visit to a store last holiday season, Jewish dad Neal Hoffman felt bad telling his son Jake that he couldn't have an Elf on the Shelf. The wildly popular toy was fun – and Hoffman kept thinking, maybe there could be something similar, but rooted in Jewish tradition.

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," says Hoffmann.

He raised more than $20,000 using the crowd-funding 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.

Hoffman decided early on that Mensch on a Bench wasn't just toy. An accompanying book is inspired by the story of Hannukah. 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!"

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 Hannukah, 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."

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