The return of the holiday season always delivers something rather exciting — the opportunity to revisit some of our favorite annual traditions. Whatever those family, faith, and overall festive practices maybe, it's funny to think that someone somewhere invented the long-loved custom your family holds dear. Enter Neal Hoffman: the author behind a modern-day tradition for Jewish families around the world with his storybook and corresponding plush character, "The Mensch on a Bench."
This year, Hoffman and his team are celebrating their fifth anniversary of the holiday creation, "The Mensch on a Bench." It has been Hoffman's long hope to bring, in his own words, "Fun-ukkah to Hanukkah."
"I needed a tool to bring my family together each night of Hanukkah," he shares exclusively with MarthaStewart.com. "Being a 'mensch' means being a good and honorable person. I try and communicate this with the book and even added the tradition of giving presents to others in need one night of Hanukkah rather than getting presents yourself."
The book's character, Moshe the Mensch, had a humble start in promoting the spirit of Hanukkah following eight Mensch rules. Today, five years later, a successful Kickstarter campaign helped the holiday tradition grow into so much more. "Mensch has grown beyond anything I could have imagined!" Hoffman exclaims. "We have placed over 150,000 mensches in Jewish homes and the appreciation from the Jewish community has been incredible."
The story is to celebrate and promote the eight days and nights of Hanukkah. As part of the custom, children name their own mensch and move them about the home during the time of celebration. It is each family mensch's responsibility to watch over the menorah, hold onto the shamash candles, and promote giving to others in greater need during one night of Hanukkah. In Hoffman's words, "a true mensch is one who puts smiles on other people's faces." In other words, remember to share your light with others.
The values found within the story and characters stem from Hoffman's own family holiday traditions. "This is something my wife and I came up with for our own family to try and reinforce strong values and remind our kids how lucky they are to get presents in the first place. We want to have a serious side focused on the values of being a mensch and having a positive impact on those around you."
It is his ultimate Hanukkah wish to share good fortune with those not just one day of the year, but throughout the other 364 days. "Our hope is that mensch can give people a nudge to do good deeds (or Mitzvot) and help the world around them," he says. "We purposely make the instructions open-ended so that everyone can choose their own way to be a mensch."
This year, Hanukkah begins on Tuesday, December 12, which means plenty of mensch companions will be busy sharing Hanukkah magic around the country. To assist them, Hoffman created a few more holiday helpers, Ask Bubbe, the Jewish talking grandmother doll and this year's plush Dreidel Dog. Why not start this tradition with your family this year?
Looking for more ways to celebrate? Watch how to make three tasty Hanukkah treats: