Mantels, shelves and making memories

holiday traditions with Elves, Mensches, Maccabees and Kippah Kantors   

by Debbi Collar

Mensch photo - Judy Giordano. Elf photo-Christopher Lordan

Holiday Memories are being made on mantels as well as shelves.

Enter toys and teaching tools, "The Elf On A Shelf," the "Mensch On A Bench"
soldier, "Maccabee On A Mantel" and "Kippah Kantor."

Elf On A Shelf's creator, Carol V. Aebersold, carried a family tradition, using a
memory from her own childhood, into her marriage. The elf is continuing to
hold on to those seasonal memories for her own twin daughters.

Apparenty her efforts worked as her children now look back upon their own
childhood recollections of the visits from the elf as one of their favorite
holiday memories.

The suggestion that her mother write a book about that tradition came from
Chanda (Aebersold) Bell, one of Aebersold's twin daughters. Together, they
wrote about the elf that visited their family each year during the holidays. It
led to a 2005 phenomenon. The elf has now earned a place on the shelf and
elsewhere around many homes. Its job description includes keeping a
watchful eye on children and reporting back to headquarters (Santa's house)
at the North Pole  as to those who were behaving well or not as the
Christmas season was fast approaching.

Both Chanda and her mom Carol, at one time, were schoolteachers.  
According to Bell, the pair
wanted to leave a lasting memory for children, "My hope is that my children
and others
take the overall message of our products to heart-family moments and
family memories are important!"

Memories are also in the making with Moshe, the Mensch on the Bench.  

Marblehead native, Neal Hoffman, recently appeared on the 2014 holiday
TV episode of Shark Tank. The former Hasbro toy employee explained the
concept of the Mensch On The Bench as an educational tool. He approached
the 'Sharks' with this new product and attached book. The idea stemmed
from the time.when his then 4 year old son, "Jake" had asked for an "Elf On
the Shelf."

The month of December and its events, Hoffman says, can always be tough
on children who do not celebrate Christmas. The Hoffmans, who have an
interfaith marriage, chose to raise their children in the Jewish religion. Jake
was told that he could not have an Elf On A Shelf, but he could have a
Mensch on a Bench." Rather than using the Mensch (person of integrity) for
behavioral purposes, Hoffman decided that it should teach children about
the rules of Hanukkah.

The concept was born and is currently on store shelves. Hoffman now tells
his son Jake, "This (the creation of Moshe-the Mensch On The Bench,"
wouldn't have happened without you." During a telephone interview,
Hoffman related that he had visited his son Jake's classroom with Moshe and
the entire experience left both Jake and his dad proud. Hoffman explained
that he was invited in to read the book to Jake's classmates and tell them
about his creation.   

Hoffman and his son, Jake, used Moshe to share some of those practices
with jake's classmates. "Instead of feeling different," Hoffman says, "Jake was
so proud and felt special that he was Jewish." His father brought in two five-
foot "Moshe's" to the classroom, the children learned to play the dreidel
game and he brought gelt to the classroom as well. "Jake also assisted his
dad in the classroom explaining to children who did not know the dreidel
game, 'what the letters on the dreidel were and what they meant." On one
night of Hanukkah, the Hoffmans use the Mensch On The Bench to teach
their children that "it is better to give than to receive."

Another memory sure to be recalled in years to come as his boys, Jake and
Alex, grow older is that they spent a Friday night in December watching
"daddy on TV." (Shark Tank Dec 11, 2014). Those wanting to see the show
can visit it on You Tube. Hoffman says that it will be "a memory of a lifetime
for his boys."

Children of the Hebrew faith are now going to experience  more learning as
the line expands "The line will reflect more teachings of the Hebrew practices
as the line continues n future years."

Apparently, Moshe also has several relatives.

His cousins on the counters-Maccabee On The Mantel and Kippah Kantor.
They, too, teach of the Festival of Hanukkah. Both are also used as teaching
tools. Cindy Hauk is a former schoolteacher who created the Kantors (a boy
and girl) as she reflected back upon her own childhood, "Growing up I never
had a toy with a 'Jewish' connection that was really fun. As a parent, I want
my young children to have toys that bring excitement and attachment to
their religion. Hauk also mentioned that she "had looked for such toys but
had not found them." That is when Kippah Kantor was created, "I wanted to
create something that would teach children about Judaism in a fun and
meaningful way. Mitzvahs are the heart of Judaism, so I decided that a toy
that will cause the children to focus on the concept of mitzvahs (good deeds)
in a subtly fun way is a great approach.  Kippah Kantor is that tool." She also
enjoys watching her own children as they search for their toy that they
named  "Smiley."  As they get older, she hopes that they, and other children
will look back on their days with Kippah Kantor and "have a lifetime of
memories."  She says, "My kids write him notes, make paper clothes for him,
give him presents, such as silly bands to wear, etc.   Kippah Kantor has made
them very aware of doing good deeds for others. They know that if they
don't (do good deeds) he might not move or even yet disappear and
not come back for a night."

Kippah Kantor photo permission and credit -Cindy Hauk

Maccabee On the Mantel, however, is a soldier. Its creator, Abra Liberman-
Garrett, along with her business partner, David Wilk. Garrett explains the use
of a soldier, "The Maccabe is part of the story of Hanukkah and our book was
always intended to be an educational vehicle. I taught at a Jewish preschool
and thought it was the perfect opportunity to teach kids the history of the
holiday."  How the Maccabee On The Mantel is used in each household may
vary. That decision is left up to the parents, she says, "I have heard some
parents use the Maccabee to incentivize their kids to behave during the
holiday season and that is totally cool, but I personally felt it was best to
keep the parameters vague because my hope was that this becomes a
tradition for families and my thinking was if I tell families how to have their
own traditions, they won't feel authentic and organic; we must do what
works best for our own families."

The Maccabee was born in, of all places, a Christmas party. Both Garrett and
Wilk have non-Jewish spouses. Their sons entered kindergarten in 2008 and
were introduced to "The Elf On the Shelf," the elf was everywhere, including
their classroom and it occurred to us we did not know of any alternative for
children who did not have Santa as part of their holidays. We were joking at a
party that we needed to invent something for the Jewish children to enjoy
and then we looked at each other and realized we totally could invent such a
product."  Garrett is a writer and Wilk owns a comedy club in Fort Worth,
Texas called 'Four Day Weekend' and has previous experience in both
publishing and production."

Maccabee photo permission and credit-David Wilk

It also appears as if the Elf On The Shelf Is moving on. It flew over the streets
of New York during the Thanksgiving Day parade. Just a month earlier its
second book, "The Birthday Tradition," found more space to fit in on
bookstore shelves.

Whatever the faith, the holidays boil down to families making memories for
their children, who will carry on the teachings of those traditions and their
incorporated values for years to come.

Plans are for all products mentioned above to expand in the near future.

January 2, 2015



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