Mensch on a Bench visits NPR.
Mensch on a Bench visits NPR. Amy Ta/NPR
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 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.
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.
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!"
Courtesy of Neal Hoffman
Jake Hoffman inspired his father to create Mensch on a Bench.
Jake Hoffman inspired his father to create Mensch on a Bench. Courtesy of Neal Hoffman
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."