The Mensch On A Bench

Last year, "The Mensch on a Bench" made its way to the baseball diamonds of Holy Land. This year, it's shipping up to Boston.

On June 5, the Red Sox will host their annual Jewish Heritage Night with a few special guests. A life-size Moshe the Mensch mascot will be at Fenway Park, along with "The Mensch on a Bench" founder Neal Hoffman. 

"They reached out blind and I debated whether it was one of my friends playing a joke on me," says Hoffman, a Marblehead, Massachusetts, native. "There was no negotiation. It was me saying yes."

Hoffman worked for Hasbro in Boston in the 2000s before moving to Cincinnati in 2011. It was soon after that he and his wife Erin, who is not Jewish, joked about a "Mensch on a Bench" being the Jewish counterpart to "Elf on a Shelf." Hoffman ran with the idea, trademarked the term in January 2013 and created a Kickstarter. By November 2014, a 12-inch doll with an accompanying hardcover book was in stores. Then, appearing on Shark Tank in December 2014, Hoffman secured a $150,000 investment from Robert Herjavec and Lori Greiner for a 15-percent stake in his company.

Business was strong for the next two years, but Hoffman could never have anticipated Mensch's next major step. Team Israel, an eclectic roster of mostly Jewish minor leaguers, adopted a life-size Mensch doll as its spiritual leader for the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Players brought Moshe to press conferences and he was even part of the team photo.

Now, the Red Sox have their own version of this fearless Hasid. The team and Hoffman have constructed 1,800 limited-edition "Mensch on a Bench" Red Sox bobbleheads to be given out to fans who buy tickets for Jewish Heritage Night. The life-size mascot version of Moshe will start his evening on Jersey Street, signing autographs and taking photos before the game. After first pitch, he'll hang with Red Sox mascot Wally in the stadium.

"I spent my 21st birthday at Fenway Park watching Pedro Martinez pitch," Hoffman remembers. "And Jewish Heritage Night is gonna be on my 41st birthday. For me personally, there's the circle of coming back 20 years later."

Hoffman's personal connections to the BoSox go even deeper. His grandfather left his parents' wedding to listen to a Red Sox playoff game in the car. Hoffman currently lives down the street from Andrew Benintendi's family and Benintendi's sister babysits the Hoffman children. Of course, one of the most notable Jewish Red Sox players of all time, Kevin Youkilis, is from Cincinnati.

The Mensch in-stadium promotion will start in Boston, but Hoffman says he'd be open to working with other teams. After all, there are many menschs around the baseball world.

"Baseball has a set of unwritten rules about sportsmanship that you can choose to follow or not," Hoffman says. "I feel like the menschs are the ones who follow that, who don't throw spikes when sliding into second or don't lower the shoulder when coming home or who shake hands after the game and admit when they get beat."

Herjavec, who is not Jewish, will be among those in attendance for Jewish Heritage Night. Hoffman expects Herjavec to be just as giddy as Hoffman will be on the field at Fenway Park.

"He comes from the children of immigrants and I feel like he grew up in a similar community that was very supportive and picked Mensch because it was the right thing to do," Hoffman says. "He and Laurie have always said it's not about the money, it's about the work we're doing. Maybe it's because we're one of the smaller businesses, maybe it's because we're profitable. We are the most-publicized brand to ever come out of Shark Tank with almost 3 million media hits.

"Robert has plenty of money. Robert doesn't need any money. Robert wants experiences like coming down and being part of the game and impacting all these Jewish families in a positive way. That's stuff you can't buy. Robert's a mensch. He gets that."

Although "The Mensch on a Bench" has become a fixture of baseball, Hoffman says he isn't interested in monetizing certain products, particularly with Team Israel, which had such a "natural and organic" relationship with Moshe. He feels similarly about the Red Sox because the team invited him as part of Jewish Heritage Night and he wants to respect its spiritual sensibility.

June 5 will be an experience for "The Mensch on a Bench." He'll be making his MLB debut in the ballpark his creator loves. Hanukkah may be a half-year away, but being a mensch is a year-round job.

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.