There’s a new Hanukkah hero saving the holiday with oil, and she isn’t doing it by frying latkes.
Hannah the Hanukkah Hero, a book and doll set about a female character’s quest to defend the Jewish people, has joined the holiday toy-market for the first time this year, with a mission to teach kids how their unique attributes can be shared with the world to make a positive impact.
The book and doll set is the most recent addition to the Mensch on a Bench mishpacha, a family of books and dolls created to introduce Jewish children to the traditions of Hanukkah and teach them to be good and honorable people.
“We don’t have a female heroine that we can rally around and point to and say, ‘This is what our women can do,’” said Neal Hoffman, the creator of the Mensch on a Bench family, who noticed a lack of female Jewish dolls available for non-Orthodox Jews. Hoffman wanted to send a female empowerment message of “girls can really do whatever they want” and teach kids that “anyone can be a hero.”
While quality Jewish dolls are hard to come across, quality female Jewish dolls are even less common. Some female Jewish dolls exist, like Rebecca Rubin, the Jewish American Girl doll, or Gali Girls, a modest, more religious version of the American Girl dolls, but Hoffman noticed that there weren’t any dolls catering to “mainstream” Judaism, where families want to bring more Judaism into their house but don’t have an easy way of doing it.
Hoffman developed the idea for Hannah the Hanukkah Hero with Robert Herjavec and Lori Grenier from ABC’s Shark Tank. In her story, Hannah gets mad when her parents force her to stay home while her cousins, the Maccabees, get to go out to defend the Jewish people from the Greeks. Hoping to contribute to the war, Hannah sets out on her own to pass three tests and prove that she is intelligent, kind and strong enough to save the day.
“What’s cool about this company is there’s things we do because we want to be an ongoing company … and there are things we want to do because it’s the right thing,” Hoffman said. “This is not about making money, this about the message for kids.”
As a religious Jew with a Christian wife, Hoffman was worried when his eldest of two sons was born that he was not going to be able to pass down the Jewish values that were so important to him. To ensure that his son would absorb his Jewish identity, Hoffman named him Jacob Maccabee Hoffman. When Hoffman’s son grew older and asked for an Elf on the Shelf, a Christmas toy, Hoffman utilized his background in toy-making from his time working at Hasbro to create the Mensch on a Bench, which he hoped would be an effective way to deliver an “extra dose” of Judaism into his family, as well as other Jewish families around the world.
“I think as long a there’s an Elf on the Shelf there can be a Mensch on a Bench, and we can expand that to allow Jewish families to celebrate … holidays five to ten minutes longer,” Hoffman said.
Since the inception of the original Mensch on a Bench book and doll set, there are over 100,000 Mensch dolls in circulation, not including all of the other Hannah the Hanukkah Hero, Ask Bubbe, or Plush Singing Menorah.
The Mensch on a Bench headquarters is already sold out of Hannah the Hanukkah Hero for this holiday season, but she can still be found in Bed Bath and Beyond, Target, or on Amazon.
“The way the Jewish community has reacted, and rallied, and embraced this brand has been amazing,” Hoffman said.