Mensch on a Bench is Hanukkah's answer to Elf on a Shelf

This story was originally published on Dec. 12, 2015.

Elf on a Shelf has quickly become a part of many families' Christmas celebrations over the past few years. When Neal Hoffman's young son Jacob asked if they could have an Elf, Hoffman came up with an idea for a new Hanukkah tradition.

"I said, 'No, you can't have an Elf on a Shelf, you're Jewish,'" Hoffman told ABC. "'You can have a mensch on a bench!'"

The story practically wrote itself. Hoffman added the Mensch as a new character in the familiar Hanukkah tale. When the weary Macabees returned to the temple, the Mensch offered to watch over the menorah so they could rest.

Neal Hoffman and the Mensch.

A "mensch" is a Yiddish word meaning "a person of integrity" and Hoffman uses the character as a tool to teach children about the spirit of giving.

"One of the rules in 'Mensch on a Bench' is you have to give presents to somebody in need instead of receiving presents yourself during one of the nights of Hanukkah," Hoffman said.

Hoffman also hopes the Mensch will facilitate more interactions between families during the holiday.

"Yes, it's pop culture and everyone's getting a kick out of it and I want to make everybody laugh, but the fact that it's catching on and parents are spending more time with their kids, they're actually doing tzedakah (charitable giving) with their kids is just amazing."

Within a few months of little Jacob's request, Hoffman had launched a successful Kickstarter campaign. The 1,000 Mensches Hoffman manufactured for Hanukkah 2013 sold out in 10 days.

This year, the Mensch is in stores like Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond and Hoffman says he is on track to sell 50,000 of the dolls.

Hoffman wants to keep building on the Mensch's success so he's hopping in the water with the sharks of Shark Tank. The episode was filmed back in September, but is perfectly positioned to air just days before the start of Hanukkah. Hoffman says he hasn't seen the episode and is nervous to watch it.

"When you walk into that room with a product for 3 percent of the population for six weeks of the year, you know what you're in for," Hoffman said of the experience. "I knew what they're objections we're going to be and I studied for that like it was an exam."

Hoffman hopes Jacob and Jacob's younger brother see Mensch's success as inspiration to reach out to achieve their dreams.

"You tell your kids they can do anything they want, but this shows it."

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