I was not going to say anything.
I mean, there are plenty of products out there on the market that I’m not going to buy for my home, so why go out of my way to pick on the Mensch on a Bench™? If the topic were to come up on conversation, I’d just say, “Not for me,” and change the subject. I would let it go. I don’t disagree with the message to our kids: be a Mensch (a person of high moral character). I say it all the time to my kids because it was said all the time to me by my grandfather (of blessed memory). I think the world needs more menschlichkeit and if some hokey doll can help with that, then what’s the harm?
But I can’t….
Image: Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones via Flickr
I mean I could, but then I got a promotional email inviting me to “Welcome a Mensch into your family!” I could ignore the Mensch on the Bench™, but when he entered my inbox he crossed a line and I can keep silent no more.
I hate the Mensch on a Bench. I hate everything about him. I hate the concept. I hate the cheap imitation of a (creepy) Christmas tradition. I hate that he holds onto the shamash candle needed to light the other candles of the Menorah and that kids are told that if they misbehave he may not let it go, resulting in no lit Menorah and no presents. I hate the ultimate focus on gifts as a reward for good behavior (distinctly unmensch-like). I hate the slogan urging us to put more “Funukkah in Hanukkah.” I hate the Mensch’s “origin story” — he stayed up all night making sure the Menorah in the Temple didn’t go out so the Maccabees could get some sleep, AND HE WASN’T EVEN GRUMPY ABOUT IT THE NEXT DAY!
Most of all, I hate the picture of “normative” Judaism his white, bearded, talit-wearing, short-and-dumpy physique projects. In the companion book he anachronistically pals around with the Maccabees but still dresses like a 19th Century Polish Hasid. Because, as we’ve all come to be taught, the ultra-Orthodox Jew is the Jewiest Jew there is, imbued with all the moral authority of “authentic” Judaism (when he isn’t spitting on immodestly dressed 8-year-old girls, demanding sex-segregated busing, delaying the departure of Israel-bound flights or demolishing a town’s secular education system). This is the personification of a mensch.
Image: The Wu’s Photo Land via Flickr
Hanukkah isn’t Christmas. If your kid wants an Elf-on-a-Shelf better you should give him or her one, than embrace this B-minus, novelty shop, moralizing troll. Move the Elf around the house. When the kids are asleep post your ironic “Elf in the Hot Tub with Barbie” photos to Instagram. Then when they wake up, teach your kids how to be mensches by your behavior: by how you treat them and how they see you treat others. Talk to them about the injustices in the world, big and small, that you and they can do something about. Hanukkah already has a mascot — the Maccabees, who overcame tremendous odds to defeat a much more powerful enemy in the cause of being able to worship freely.
I don’t bear the creator of the Mensch on a Bench™ any ill will. From the website, he seems to be a nice guy, with a background in the toy industry, who just didn’t want his kids to feel left out around Christmas. He’s singing the right song, just hitting the wrong notes in the process. While kids like their toys when they are young, once they get older the toys don’t matter so much as the lessons we teach them. And I contend that parents can teach their kids better than the Mensch can.