If you've got kids, you've probably heard of The Elf on the Shelf. It's a toy elf that can be moved around ever night, and the story goes that it reports back to Santa Claus on whether the kids are naughty or nice. This has become part of the secular celebration of the Christmas holiday among many families.
Perceiving the need for a similar item for Jewish households, author Neal Hoffman has created The Mensch on a Bench. The Mensch is a foot-tall soft doll dressed like a rabbi complete with Tallis (though it has no fringe, which is part of a traditional Tallis). The doll also holds a Shamash candle, a candle used to light the Menorah each night of Hanukkah. The doll comes with a book that mixes the traditional story of Hanukkah with modern traditions. For instance, it implies that this character, Moshe, sat up and watched the lamps every night as they burned until new oil could be delivered to the temple. The more widely accepted story has it that oil sufficient for one day to light the temple lasted eight days while more kosher oil was being prepared. The book ends with eight tips for being a mensch and what to do with this doll during Hanukkah. But like it's elven counterpart, it has a component that could end up with kids not getting presents. If the Mensch doll lets go of the Shamash candle, kids will get presents. If not, tough luck.
This storybook and soft doll is decidedly for the youngest kids who may not be ready for the full story and history of the Hanukkah holiday. Parent participation is encouraged because parents will need to help Moshe let go of the candle. Parents will also have to decide if they want to make this part of their holiday tradition.
This is not age-graded. While the story seems a little forced overall, this is perfectly harmless for most younger kids. Older kids may get confused at the retelling of the Hanukkah story.
This is available to purchase at www.themenschonabench.com/shop.
While the Elf on the Shelf deals strictly with the secular side of the Christmas holiday, the Mensch on the Bench story blends the secular and religious observation of Hanukkah. Parents will have to decide if that's appropriate for their homes.
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