There is little more amusing in life than wordplay. Especially when it has to do with holidays. And even more especially when that holiday is Hanukkah. So when The Mensch on a Bench appeared on our toy shelf, I immediately knew I needed to:
- Say its name out loud four times
- Write about it
- Take it in a time machine back to my childhood
Growing up, I remember being so jealous of my friends with advent calendars who’d show up to school every day for a month with new Liquid Lip Smackers and gel pens. So while I learned my abridged version of Judaism from making latkes in my grandmother’s kitchen and watching Grandpa Pickles tell stories on holiday episodes of the Rugrats, I understand the sadness of missing out because your family celebrates the holidays in a different way.
Enter: The Mensch on a Bench.
Writer and toymaker, Neal Hoffman, created the idea for The Mensch on a Bench after his son requested an Elf on the Shelf for the holiday season. With nothing similar on the market for the Jewish holidays, Hoffman developed the idea for the Hanukkah helper and 18 months later it was funded by a Kickstarter program and headed to production.
The plush toy and accompanying book lets kids in the Jewish community in on the fun of having a holiday friend hanging around the mantle place—or menorah.
Included with the plush is a book about Moshe the Mensch, who volunteered to keep an eye on the last of the Jews’ oil after Judah and the Maccabees defeated the Greeks (see? Rugrats knowledge). While he attempts to help keep the lights on for 8 days, Moshe creates some Hanukkah traditions in the process: playing dreidel, making latkes, and hiding chocolate gelt.
While the idea is geared towards the Jewish community, it’s by no means religiously exclusive, and kids can add to their wealth of knowledge—and their family’s holiday traditions—by following Moshe’s eight rules. The Rules include naming the Mensch (which translates as “a good person”), being well behaved to release his Hanukkah magic (you’re welcome, parents), and devoting one night of Hanukkah to giving to those in need.
It’s a great way to add more “Funnukkah” to the holiday, while still holding onto tradition.