How do you preserve 5,000 years of tradition? An innovative new toy company gave a makeover to the popular Hanukkah plush toy the Maccabee on the Mantel and is now expanding with a product line for Passover, with ambitious plans for games and toys for families everywhere for any occasion.
Get to know the company that’s as exuberant as its name: Toy Vey.
Headed by toy industry veteran Eli Kowalski, a former Parker Brothers licensee who developed and marketed a Limited Sterling Silver Monopoly before becoming a successful children’s author of the award-winning Kushka the Dog Named Cat series, Toy Vey is guided by a single mission: to bring families together.
It does so through the fun and enrichment of toys, books, games and apps, best illustrated by the Maccabee on the Mantel, the kid-tested, Rabbi-approved huggable stuffed Maccabeean warrior packaged with a book illustrating the escape of the chosen people from the brutal King Antiochus.
Earlier this year, Toy Vey purchased the concept from its creators and quickly improved and expanded on it, making a see-through display box and including a 3-inch wooden custom dreidel, game board game and an instruction sheet on how to play the dreidel game – and dropped the retail price. Toy Vey also recently released an 18-inch version of this Maccabee warrior as a superhero.
Now Toy Vey branching out with a toy line for Passover in early 2016 and has plans to produce products that are not only tied to Jewish holidays. “Our product line will be a year-round presence for people,” says Kowalski. “We are going to create fun, educational content for kids and parents. We want families to experience new traditions that will last a lifetime. That’s my challenge.”
Eli Kowalski Takes a Plush Toy – and His Company – to New Levels
The Maccabee on the Mantel was just the beginning. The plush toy that brought to life the history and spirit of the Jewish warrior became a Hanukkah-season hit (in the tradition of Elf on a Shelf). Now the delightfully named company Toy Vey is building upon that success by launching ambitious plans for toys and books pegged to Passover next year and then branching into non-holiday-related products created with only one goal in mind to bring families together.
“We don’t want to be a one-product company,” says Eli Kowalski, the owner of the Pennsylvania-based company Toy Vey, which sells the Maccabee on the Mantel. “My vision is not about a single product. It’s about bringing families back together to the table to create new experiences and new family traditions.”
Toy Vey’s ambitious vision is personified by the company’s innovative, creative leader. Born in Israel and raised in the United States, Kowalski was a former licensee of Parker Brothers, where he developed and marketed a Limited Sterling Silver Monopoly set sold at FAO Schwarz and Neiman Marcus. Only 300 were made and they retailed for $2500. Kowalski even met Michael Jackson, at the Price of His Toys in Beverly Hills, who purchased the Monopoly set and later ordered 15 neon backgammon games as Christmas gifts. Kowalski also developed other board games, including neon backgammon sets. He went on to create a successful brand with his Kushka the Dog Named Cat, series of award-winning, children’s storybooks, plush toy, eBooks and an app, all based about his dog Kushka a beautiful white Maltese who thinks she’s a cat.
“As an author, I have visited many elementary schools, talking to children and motivating them to write,” says Kowalski, whose books have been the recipient of the prestigious Mom’s Choice Award. “That’s the enthusiasm that I want to bring to my toy company Toy Vey.”
While attending the 2015 Toy Fair trade show in New York City, Kowalski spotted Maccabee on the Mantel and was immediately impressed with the concept. The toy’s creators, Abra Liberman-Garrett and David Wilk, both raised Jewish but living in a very Christmas-centered culture, developed a storybook and adorable plush to help connect Jewish families with their history – a new tradition, 5075 years in the making.
Kowalski ended up buying the product outright from its creators, who were happy to see it in the hands of someone who understood the product and had the experience, resources, and energy to make it even more successful. Kowalski improved the original product, making a see-through display box and including a 3-inch wooden custom dreidel, board game and an instruction sheet on how to play the dreidel game. He added these improvements and dropped the retail price to $29.95. Although the Maccabee on the Mantel was recognized throughout the country as a children’s Hanukkah gift, the goal is to extend the appeal of the Maccabee on the Mantel beyond the holidays.
“Our product line will be a year-round presence for people, not just a Hanukkah toy,” says Kowalski. “To me, the Maccabee is not just a little plush toy. He has a smiley face. He’s soft, huggable and your new best friend. Like a children’s superhero, he can protect you, and you can make him into anything you want.” Toy Vey just released an 18-inch version of this Maccabee warrior superhero.
“Next year, we plan on releasing a new plush toy and storybook box set in February or March, just in time for Passover. However, it won’t stop there. “We are going to create fun, educational content for kids and parents. We want families to experience new traditions that will last a lifetime. That’s my challenge.”