No Mensch on This Bench

mosheMeet the Mensch on the Bench, the circumcised answer to the manipulative, passive-aggressive Elf on the Shelf phenomenon.

Apparently some Jewish families have been suffering from “Elf Envy.” And because this is America, some schnorrer enterprising gentleman is getting rich because no good parent would deny their precious child another tsotchke.

C’mon, Yenta, you’re saying. You’re just bitter because your kids are too old to fall for the “behave yourselves or the mensch won’t bring you prezzies” nonsense.

You may be right. Perhaps I’m becoming an alterkocker in my 40s. For reals, I’m so old school I still spell Chanukah with a “C.”

I admit, the book that accompanies this little man actually looks kind of cute and somewhat redemptive in its moral tale.

And I guess it makes little Jewish kidlets feel good that even though Santa’s not freaking coming ever, at least there’s a stuffed midget moving around the living room. He might even be useful if he can clean wax out of the menorahs.

But I don’t like contrived, million-dollar ideas masquerading as “new traditions.”

Whywhywhywhy us Jews gotta be all “Let’s Christmas up Chanukah” all the time? Why do Jewish kids need a Mensch on the Shelf, or his less flashy Israeli cousin, The Maccabee on the Mantel?

Look, I’m all about flashing up ancient ritual. I understand the need to create a sense of belonging however we can in Judaism, and I fully support creative appropriation of decor, within limits. (Blue lights around the palm tree in the front yard? Cool. Decorating any type of indoor foliage. HELL NO.)

I just think it’s difficult enough to cultivate healthy Jewish identities from the roiling stew of nationalistic idealism, capitalistic brand brainwashing and plain old family weirdness.

On the other hand, Blue Velvet Cupcakes? That I can get behind.

10 thoughts on “No Mensch on This Bench

  1. I’m with you, kiddo…and I’m NO ALTA KACKER, either! Maybe it’s being a purist—and I’m not Orthodox either—- Judaism is beautiful just as it is–YES, we can expand it, but to “Goyim-it-up” is just totally foolish ! Have a Beautiful Chanukah….and KEEP THE FAITH! Marla,Atlanta,GA.

  2. Hey yenta honeychole! I think it is your “plain old family weirdness” that will be the saving grace for your kids. Apologies for the Puritan phrase….

  3. B”H
    Yeshar Koach! Ken, Ken, and Ken some more.
    You have the right idea! It was our festival of lights long before the Pagans made up the story of Elves.
    When my neighbors come over with Christmas candy and cookies, I reciprocate with latkes and Chanukah cookies. When my grandkids bring goyim kids over they get a crash course in Chanukah history, blessings and using the Shamash. I make it fun for them and pass out treats. They love it! So far, I’m the nice old Jew on the block. Pray for me 🙂 I live in Moore, OK. Not far from the place where a woman was beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam. Hi ne ni … am I…. Chag Sameach Chanukah!
    Omer Elam

  4. Yo Yenta, hey there….Neal Hoffman, the creator of the Mensch on a Bench here..

    Let me tell you a little more about my invention and see if I can change your mind…

    I am in an interfaith marriage and raising our kids Jewish. My son’s cousins all have Elf on a Shelf and he feels left out. When he asked for an Elf, I made a joke, how about a Mensch on a Bench? I fell in love with the idea, wrote the book, and took it to Kickstarter. This was something that we just created for our own family our of need.

    I do take some issue with schnorrer, as I really created this for my family and then decided to see if others were interested. They were! We found a perfect opportunity to take the children who felt left out and instead have them celebrate JEWISH traditions.

    Sure, we needed the Elf on a Shelf to crack open the door. But now families are spending a little more time together and hopefully (rule 7) giving gifts to those in need.

    I understand that the holiday is subjective and everyone has a different “gut feel”. For you blue lights on outside trees are ok, but not inside. For some, no lights at all. But many many Jewish parents have thanked us for developing a tool for them to make Hanukkah more fun and help their kids celebrate the holiday.

    Sure Hanukkah is not our biggest holiday…so the second book the AfikoMensch is on its way!

    How about I send you a free Mensch, you read the book, give it a try, and see if we can get you to make some room on your bench for this Mensch.

    My offer is open….

    Neal Hoffman

    • Very much appreciate your response, Neal – and I believe your intentions are pure and kind. I support any measure of Jewish culture in our homes, and I’m glad your son is experiencing a sense of pride around Chanukah. However, you ARE a former executive for a big box toy store, and surely the profitability of the Mensch idea was part of its initial creation. But like I said, I’m a bit of a cynical alterkocker…

      My kids are bit old for Mensch on the Bench, but if you would send a complimentary package to the Jewish Educational Alliance in Savannah, GA, I know it would find its way to a needy family. Thank you and Happiest Holidaze to you and your family!

      • Hi hon——boy oh boy—your answer to Neal was amazing—Yenta for mayor! Altho I can see his motivation for writing to you, I feel it just made my experience of trying to “goyim up Chanukah” MORE offensive! Not to get political about this, but that’s some of the pitfalls inter-marriage causes. Firstly, altho I realize you can’t help who you love, but if one is truly grounded in their LOVE of Judaism, a person would never intermarry–unless their spouse converts—Not being “on the same page” creates a mixed-message for children. Even tho kindness IS the basis for ALL religions, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t want my Kugel “watered down”, if you know what I mean! Neal’s response was,for me, a total turn-off–you handled it wonderfully kiddo! May you and yours enjoy a Wonderful Chanukah and perfect latkes! Marla,Atlanta

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