Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mensch On A Bench - Another New, Commercial Holiday Tradition

“Elf-On-A-Shelf Mania” is in full swing and even though I'm already sick of the little smiling bastard, I was quite amused when I recently spotted the Jewish version of the Elf called Mensch On A Bench.

Mensch On A Bench - What a cutie!

In the Elf story, your elf sits somewhere in your house, watching your children and reporting back to Santa if the kids have been naughty or nice. If the kids touch the Elf to see if he/she is real or not, the magic leaves the elf and can only return if you sprinkle a little cinnamon beside them (source:; apparently, cinnamon is like “vitamins” for the Elf and gets them back to the North Pole so they can be checked out by “North Pole E.R. Doctors” (I am NOT making this stuff up, but apparently someone does).

Both Elf-On-A-Shelf and the Mensch On A Bench watch over families, judging the behavior of the kids. 

Anyway, like Elf, the Mensch is “filled with holiday magic” and watches over children to see how they're behaving. Both have the power to affect how many presents are received. While the Elf flies back to Santa to tattle on the little ones, the Mensch stays up to watch over the menorah. If the children misbehave in his house, he will holds tightly onto the shamash candle and will not allow them any presents. However, while the Elf is untouchable, the Mensch is like a cuddly, old Jewish guy and is designed to be played with like any other doll.

The Mensch is adorable and especially popular with interfaith families who are always looking to teach old traditions while starting new ones. And the book that comes with the Mensch tells the story of Hanukkah in a heartwarming way with sweet, vivid illustrations. 

The problem I have with the Mensch is the “holiday magic” part. For years, I have heard predominately Jewish kids in my town taunt my children, flat out saying that their parents have told them that “Santa is just a myth that Christian parents tell their kids.” Now it seems that those same families are embracing the concept of “holiday magic” and telling their pint-sized skeptics that it's okay to believe in magical beings. If it was a “lie” before told by Christian parents, why is the Mensch a “truth” now that it's being perpetuated by some Jewish ones?   How would they feel if my kids told theirs that the Mensch isn't magic?  

Why was the concept of holiday magic a "lie" before, but it's okay now that's it's being embraced by some Jewish families?  How would they feel if my kids told theirs that the Mensch isn't magic? 

Being in an interfaith marriage and raising our children both faiths (under the umbrella of the Unitarian Universalist Church), my Jewish husband wisely bows his head and sends the kids to me for all-things Santa. He's always known that holiday magic is real and should never be tampered with. Honestly, I don't like any character, magical or not, that stands to judge whether my kids are “naughty” or “nice” - all kids are good; it is their behaviors and decisions that are wrong or right. 

Now, having said this, we do have an Elf, mainly because an old family friend gave it to us. Rather than tattling, Seymour challenges my daughter to find him every morning, a total pain for me, but my little one loves it and while Seymour does fly to Santa, it's more to check in than check up on my kids.

Will we be getting the Mensch? There's no reason to. My kids know the story and traditions associated with Chanukah. They take pride in lighting the menorah every year and are proud of their Jewish heritage. The Mensch is just another commercial way for a company to make money off the “competition” between Chanukah and Christmas. It's another example of commercialism at its worst.

Maybe, rather than naughty or nice, the question for us, as adults, should be how much are we and our families succumbing to the commercialism of the season – whether in the name of Christianity, Judaism, or anything else? Elf-On-A-Shelf? Mensch On A Bench? They're both superfluous. 


  1. Hey there MM,

    Neal Hoffman, creator of the Mensch on a Bench here. One thing I have learned since starting my company is that every family has, and is entitled to, its own traditions. So, I wont try and convince you to get a Mensch, just give you a few thoughts...

    1. There are 8 rules for having a Mensch, one is that you give presents to those in need one night of Hanukkah rather than receive.

    2. We debated having Mensches "watch" over kids and decided to let every family do what is right for them. The Mensch NEVER cancelled Hanukkah or stops presents, if he holds his candle tighter he is telling the kids they need to behave better.

    3. In terms of adding Hanukkah magic, a few drops of oil lasted 8 its not like there was no precedent

    4. When I created the product, there was no company. I started this for my own family and put it on Kickstarter as a hobby. When Kickstarter took off and we sold out...we started the (one person) company

    5. We agree Mensch is adorable!

    6. This product is not meant to create a competition between the holidays, rather it is meant to give a Jewish outlet for parents who want to add a new tradition. Have you seen that we are adding Menorahs and Dreidels to the line?

    7. It is important to me that the Mensch tells the story of the Maccabees and does not become larger than that story. This is about the miracle of lights and G-D....not about my character.

    8. Honestly, I'm just making things up to get to 8 because I like the symbolism of 8 points for 8 nights.

    Hope you decide to give us a shot! Happy Hanukkah!


    1. Neal, a pleasure to hear from the esteemed creator of this toy. It's also fantastic to here of the origin of the Mensch and I appreciate the insights you gave. Now, having said that, adding a new tradition to a holiday is lovely, but obviously this is a product and as, such, a money-making commodity. In my opinion, Mensch (as cute as he is) is a still a bit too commercial for my taste. In fact, if you've read some of my other posts, I abhor Elf-On-A-Shelf for the same reason (plus, moving the little narc around is a lot of bloody work!). Best of luck with the Mensch. I'd cuddle with him!


Thanks for commenting! Feel free to email me at