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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 22, 2013 i| Famed Christmas 'Elf on the Shelf' meets its Jewish match: 'Mensch on a Bench' Mensch on a Bench Moshe the Mensch, the newly offered "Mensch on a Bench." By Matt Robinson JNS.org When his son asked for The Elf on the Shelf--the famed Christmas toy that is said to keep an eye on children and report back to Santa Claus regarding their behavior--en- trepreneur Neal Hoffman said he felt an admitted pang of"elf envy" and saw the need to offer something more appropriate. "I said to myself that I wished there was a toy and book that was an alternative, that was rooted in Jewish traditions," Hoffman told JNS.org. Hoffman, at the time an employee of the Hasbro toy and game company, would go on to create a new toy to ensure that those celebrating Chanukah wouldn't experi- ence the same "elf envy." With roots tracing back to the 1970s, The Elf on the Shelf has sold nearly 2.5 million units. The elf has now met its Jewish match through Hoffman's "The Mensch on a Bench," a toy and book set based on the story of the character Moshe the Mensch. Available for the first time this Chanukah, the set costs $36 (plus shipping and handling). Using the popular crowd- funding website Kickstarter to raise money (in Jewish- appropriate denominations of $18) Hoffman brought his dream of a Jewish judge of childhood behavior to life. The book that comes with Moshe explains that this savvy tzad- dik was in the Temple with the Maccabeeswhen they defeated the Greeks in the second century BCE. As the age-old story goes, there was only suf- ficient oil for one night, but it lasted for eight. How? Moshe volunteered to sit on a bench all night and keep an eye on it. Thousands of years later, Moshe is still on a bench and still watching over Chanukah, much like The Elf on the Shelf watches over Christmas. Hoffman, a Massachusetts native who now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, explained that as a father of two in an interfaith household, he was well familiar with The Elf on the Shelf from his nieces and nephews. When his son asked for one, he said he initially laughed off his idea for a Chanukah-themed alternative to the toy, but the idea kept coming back until he could resist it no longer. While Hoffman sees The Elf on the Shelf as a symbol of the commercialism of a holi- day, he suggests that Moshe the Mensch is a keeper of the eternal traditions of Judaism. "The Elf is more secular and not as religious, just pure fun," he said. Moshe may not be an "an- swer" to the elf, but it is an "alternative" that is appropri- ate for Jewish children and al- lows them to create their own Chanukah tradition, Hoffman said. Hoffman used his years of experience at Habsro-- where he worked (and played) with the legendary likes of G.I. Joe and the Transformers--to his advantage for creating The Mensch on a Bench. Yet the experience was different than anything he had done before, he said. "This was the first time I had to take an idea and figure out everything, including the design, engineering, packag- ing, marketing, fundraising, Web development, and time- line management," Hoffman recalled. "It really made me appreciate the caliber of people I had worked with in the past." While he didn't have his for- mer Hasbro colleagues work- ing with him, Hoffman was far from alone. He quickly found fans on Facebook and backers on Kickstarter, and said his biggest support came from his family. The passion for Moshe the Mensch was immediately "contagious," he said. In an effort to explain Moshe to the masses, Hoff- man hurried to come up with a believable backstory, and created the book to ac- company the toy. "The book is inspired by the story of Chanukah," Hoffman said. "It tells about how the Maccabees came back to the Temple and were tired from the war and needed to sleep. With only one night of oil, they were worried it would go out overnight and leave them in the dark. One man The cover of "Mensch on a panies Moshe the Mensch. volunteered to watch over the lights: Moshe the Mensch." To give Moshe and his story more staying power and ap- peal, the book also includes activities for each of the eight nights of the holiday. Hoffman hopes to bring the book not only to his local library, but also to the Jewish literacy nonprofit PJ Library, which to date has delivered more than 3 million books to youths. He also said sequels are possible. "There are still a lot of words that rhyme with'mensch' that Mensch on a Bench Bench," the book that accom- we can work with," Hoffman said. In the meantime, Hoffman is looking forward to opening his own Moshe on the first night of Chanukah (Nov. 27). "I think we have a fun idea that Jewish families can rally around and use to make Cha- nukah more fun," Hoffman said. "Over the next couple years, Jewish families will decide if this is a great idea and something they want, or if the Mensch will become a rare collectors item." On Chanukah, daughters dream and fathers scheme By Ted Roberts It was the second night of Chanukah and the house was full of her excited grand- children, who shrieked and wailed and chattered like the construction crew thatworked on the Tower of Babel. Was it totally random, the old lady wondered, or was there a script for this bedlam? I shouldn't be so cranky, she reasoned. But twelve kids--some exultant with their gifts, some com- plaining-could shatter the glass in the windows. And such lavish Chanukah gifts. In my day, thought Bubbe, I'd be lucky to get a piece of fruit and a silver dime. The gifts had been distrib- uted, the latkes consumed, and both adults and kids had taken the ceremonial peck at her cheek. So, soon it would be time for the Chanukah finale, the traditional "then and now" seminar with Bubbe; an old family custom. The kids clustered around her. "Tell us how it was when you were a girl, Bubbe," as though they believed she had ever been anything but a short, round lady who smiled more than she talked.A Jewish Queen Victoria with a decid- edly un-English accent who they were forced to call on the phone every weekend. Last year she told them New Chanukah stamp for 2013  p  , _., o.: f, , , . i o,   F., .  designs. Bronstein's blend of the primitive charm of iron- work with a contemporary design appealed to art director Ethel Kessler. "There is a rich tradition of crafts in Judaic art and that tradition goes back many generations," she explained. "I like the handmade quality to The United States Postal Service recently introduced a new Chanukah stamp. The 2013 Chanukah stamp features a photograph of a beautiful forged-iron menorah created by Vermont blacksmith Ste- ven Bronstein, who uses the ancient techniques of black- smithing to create modern this menorah. It continues in that tradition, and because it is made of humble material in- stead of precious metal, there is an honesty and simplicity to it." For the photo shoot, Kessler chose white beeswax candies that enhanced the menorah's simplicity. A Hanukkah stamp issued in 2009 also featured a meno- rah, though quite different in style. That menorah was pho- tographed from the side, full on, showing the entire piece, which is a more traditional de- sign. Kessler sought a different perspective for the 2013 stamp art, and photographer George E. Brown shot the menorah from slightly above and at an angle, with the left side rotated closer to the camera. The angle emphasized the menorah's delicate yet rugged design. The stamp is available now at local Post Offices, online or by calling 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724). the story of her voyage in the filthy hold of the SS Wilhelm to the glittering new world of the Lower East side. The year before, she'd left them shocked and wide-eyed over the tale of her older brother's abduction by a band of drunk Cossacks. And every word was true and every word was a lesson. If these children didn't know about yesterday, how could they prepare for tomorrow? Instruction. Wasn't that Bubbe's role, like smiling and offering the drooping cheek to pursed lips? These kids should know how it was back then. Beginnings are as use- ful as endings. Didn't she still have a sharp mental picture of her brother and their Pol- ish village? Didn't her mouth remember endless meals of cabbage and potatoes? And who could forget her entire family stuffed in an Eastside tenement that only glittered when ice silvered both sides of the windowpane? "So tell us a story, Bubbe. C'mon, c'mon," they persisted. "OK," she agreed,"butfirsta cup of tea and a slice of lemon and two Sweet'n Lo's." Quickly they obeyed. She sat at the dining room table; they crowded around, two of the little ones to a single chair. "I'll tell you about my best friend, Dora. And every word is true and every word is a lesson. She was 16, like me. We had both been in America since we were six. So we considered ourselves Americans--not Greenhorns. We even had boyfriends, not boyfriends like you mean now, but, ya know, special friends. My best girlfriend, Dora, had a boy downstairs in the tenement who she watched out of the corner of her eye. You know how it is. You look at him. He turns shyly away. But you hope he looks back. "Anyhow, Dora loved Jacob Plesovsky. He was 18 and al- ready he was peddling ladies dresses around town. Like I say, he'd never taken her out. Who had money for that--but they had talked plenty. I think they had a plan. "Daughters dream, but fathers scheme, as they say. One day her father waits 'til everybody's out of the room and he sits Dora down across the dining room table for a talk. And he tells her she's gonna have the best second night of Chanukah ever; be- cause on the second candle of Chanukah, little Dora is going to be a married woman. Dora is so fetumult, so mixed up to hear this, that for a minute she thinks her papa has gone to the Plesovskys and made a deal. How did he know about her plan, which she had only revealed to her best friend? Me. Then through a fog, as though her father is shouting from a passing ship, she hears the name Adam Grossman." "Papa, Jacob Plesovsky, that's who I want. You got the wrong boy." But daughters dream and fathers scheme. "Listen", says Papa, "this boy you'll love in a couple of years. He has a good job in the textile district and he's handsome. Grayish blue eyes and light brown, wavy hair. No moles, no blemishes. And as the Americans say, he is high-spirited. They'll never tie him to a tailor's bench. Now, that's that! Go help your mama with the supper dishes." Dora's futile tears mixed with the dirty dishwater in the sink. Bubbe paused to let the truth sink into youthful minds. "Yes, her father had selected her husband." At first, silence. Then a chorus of revolt. "So what happened to your friend? And what about Jacob?" "Well, they didn't die of a broken heart. I don't know what became of Jacob. I think he ended up working in a men's clothing store in the Bronx." The children muttered rebelliously about slipping out of bedroom windows at midnight and running off to some renegade rabbi for a quickie. "That's what we'd do now," said two of the smaller mutineers. "And what about Dora?" "Dora--she did OK," said the bubbe as her eyes wandered over a room full of 12 vibrant, high-spirited kids. Many with gray-blue eyes and wavy, light brown hair. On this second night of Cha- nukah, it was more apparent than ever to the old lady that daughters dream and fathers scheme. Next Chanukah she'd tell them how Adam Gross- man had softly tiptoed into her heart.