5. Be a treeeeeee-*wobbles precariously*-EEEEEEEE-*regains semblance of balance*-eee…
4. Wait, are we on the left or the right?
3. I shouldn’t be thinking right now.
2. Ow. OW. Ow?
1. My GOD, I need to clip my toenails.
When his son asked for The Elf on the Shelf – the famed Christmas toy that is said to keep an eye on children and report back to Santa Claus regarding their behavior – entrepreneur Neal Hoffman says he felt an admitted pang of “elf envy” and saw the need to offer something more appropriate.
“I said to myself that I wished there was a toy and book that was an alternative, that was rooted in Jewish traditions,” Hoffman recalls.
Hoffman, at the time an employee of the Hasbro toy and game company, would go on to create a new toy to ensure that those celebrating Hanukkah wouldn’t experience the same “elf envy.”
With roots tracing back to the 1970s, The Elf on the Shelf has sold nearly 2.5 million units. The elf has now met its Jewish match through Hoffman’s The Mensch on a Bench, a toy and book set based on the story of the character “Moshe the Mensch.”
Using the popular crowd-funding website Kickstarter to raise money Hoffman brought his dream of a Jewish judge of childhood behavior to life. The book that comes with Moshe explains that this savvy tzaddik was in the Temple with the Maccabees when they defeated the Greeks in the second century BCE. As the age-old story goes, there was only sufficient oil for one night, but it lasted for eight. How? Moshe volunteered to sit on a bench all night and keep an eye on it. Thousands of years later, Moshe is still on a bench and still watching over Hanukkah, much like The Elf on the Shelf watches over Christmas.
“The book is inspired by the story of Hanukkah,” Hoffman says. “It tells about how the Maccabees came back to the Temple and were tired from the war and needed to sleep. With only one night of oil, they were worried it would go out overnight and leave them in the dark. One man volunteered to watch over the lights: Moshe the Mensch.” To give Moshe and his story more staying power and appeal, the book also includes activities for each night of Hanukkah. While Hoffman sees The Elf on the Shelf as a symbol of the commercialism of a holiday, he suggests that Moshe the Mensch is a keeper of the eternal traditions of Judaism.
“The Elf is more secular and not as religious, just pure fun,” he says.
Moshe may not be an answer to the elf, but it is an alternative that is appropriate for Jewish children and allows them to create their own Hanukkah tradition, Hoffman says.
I know Hanukkah has been over for a bit now, but I heard about this on NPR and thought it was kind of fantastic!
‘S HERTOGENBOSCH, the Netherlands— High on the cathedral in this trim Dutch town, amid a phalanx of stone statues of local noblemen, crusaders, saints and angels, one figure stands out. Smiling faintly, with lowered eyelids, one of the angels wears jeans, has a laptop bag slung over one shoulder and is chatting on a cellphone. The angel gets about 30 calls a day on the phone.
That is because, shortly after the statue was unveiled last April, a local couple, the parents of two children, set up a number so people could call the angel. Business cards soon appeared in pubs, restaurants and hotels with a picture of the angel and the number. So successful was the line that the couple opened a Twitter account, @ut_engelke, managed by the husband, which now has about 2,700 followers.
“The telephone is ringing all day,” said the wife, who like her husband agreed to meet a reporter on the condition that they not be identified. “It was a fairy tale,” she said over beer and snacks. “Now, it’s real.” To identify them, she said, would end it.
What began as a joke continues because the cellphone number has become something of a hot line, dialed by people of all ages, some in need of help, others just because they are lonely.
At the holidays, the calls became so frequent and so pressing that the couple was tempted to give up. “Between Christmas and New Year’s, that was an emotional time frame, it was so heartbreaking,” she said. A small girl called begging the angel to pray for a grandmother who had just died; a woman asked help to celebrate her first Christmas without her parents. A widow sought prayers for her dead children.
The statue of the Little Angel arose out of a 1997 competition, won by the Dutch sculptor Ton Mooy, to create 40 statues, including 14 angels, to replace those on the cathedral that time and pollution had ruined. The Little Angel was the only unconventional one.
“You can make a phony Gothic statue,” Mr. Mooy, 63, said in his studio in Amersfoort, about an hour north of here. “That’s not what I wanted. It had to fit in with what was always on the church, namely, refinement, emotion. Angels are there to guide, to protect people, they get messages from above. How do you show that? With a cellphone. I tell kids, ‘There’s one button on that cellphone,’ ” he said with a chuckle — a direct line to heaven. “So she doesn’t get naughty, calling other angels.”
Catholic Church officials who administer the immense Gothic cathedral, dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, are not entirely amused. “Success has many fathers,” said Pieter Kohnen, a cathedral board member. “And maybe exploiters.”
The couple do not charge a fee for calls to the Little Angel, and insist they are not profiting from its spreading fame. But in December the church set up an official number for the public to phone the angel — for $1.07 a minute. Now, a sign next to the cathedral invites passers-by to “Call the Angel.” A man’s voice answers, giving the caller several options: “Dial 1, for a history of the church; dial 2, to learn what Christianity is about,” and so forth. The goal, Kohnen said, was, “to promote the gospel, evangelize, but also financial.” (About $940,000 a year is required for the cathedral’s upkeep).
Callers to the earlier number, where they pay only the regular rate for calling a cellphone, never get an answering machine, the woman who provides the angel’s voice explained. “I say, ‘Hello, this is the Little Angel,’ and then various things can happen,” she said. Not all callers are in dire need of help. “Kids under 10 are the best,” she said with a laugh. “What language do I speak? What’s for dinner? Are you cold? What about the rain, no umbrella?”
Students seek help with exams, others with driving tests. “My answer’s always the same: I will blow some angel magic to you,” the woman said. Others just want to vent. “They talk about the church, about the abuse scandals, and so forth,” she said.
“In most cases there is laughter, but there are callers who have no faith in friends or relatives, so they would like to talk to someone they have some kind of faith in,” she said. A widow in her 80s called from Amsterdam to complain of loneliness — bad weather prevented her going out and there was no one to bring in groceries; moreover, her sink needed repairs for the equivalent of $135. “She said she’d lost faith in humanity, in her own family,” said the woman who lends the angel a voice. Two weeks later the elderly woman called again, to thank the angel. Things had gotten better.
The woman who gives the angel a voice said she tries to impart a message of tolerance. A school class called recently from the southern province of Zeeland. “The kids asked why Catholics eat pork and Muslims don’t,” she said. “I said, ‘Well, Hindus are not allowed to eat cows, so perhaps Catholics are very much in between.” She does not feel she is deceiving anyone by impersonating the angel. “If someone is serious, I am serious,” she said. “If someone is calling for a prank, I go along with that.”
The couple knows that church officials are displeased. “They would like us to stop, though they haven’t told us directly,” the husband said. “We are not getting any money, and we are not competing with the church.”
She is not sure how much longer they will do it. “Till I get fed up with it, I guess,” the wife said. “Sometimes it’s hard.” But it is still fun, too. When Steve Jobs died, the phone rang endlessly. The angel, she said, told callers: “Steve Jobs will soon arrive upstairs — perhaps I’ll get a new model!”
(Source: The New York Times)