Surely by now you have met the newest family in town.
Zaidy, Babby, Tatty, Mommy, Duvid, Ruchel, Moishy, Shmulik, Rivky and twins Fayga and Motty, better known as the Shpielmans, seem to be just about everywhere these days much to the delight of children of all ages. With movable limbs and intricately painted faces, the truly adorable Shpielmans are made to fit in all Playmobil sets and come with a full range of accessories that give kids the opportunity to create their own Shabbos tishim.
The attention to detail here is more than a little impressive – the are two challahs, a silver/wood challah board with a removable knife, a wine bottle, a Kiddush cup and an ornate washing cup. While the pint-sized twins may have to share the stroller, the wheels really roll, the sun hood pivots to keep the babies away from harmful UV rays and the removable foot cover provides extra space so that both Fayga and Motty fit inside. And yes, Tatty and Zaidy will have to take turns using the hat box when they go away for Shabbos but, as adults, I am sure that they will be able to work out that little detail.
The story of the Shpielmans dates back to 2015 when veteran toy designer Eitan Siboni of Israel presented his idea for Jewish play figures to his brother-in-law, Isaac Abramchayev, a physician’s assistant at the Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders in New Jersey. Hoping to help drum up financial support for the concept of high quality, functional toys that would appeal to the Jewish market, Abramchayev pitched the product to the doctors at the practice, who agreed to a sit down with Siboni while on a trip to Israel.
“We had that meeting late on a Motzei Shabbos and he took out these hand carved models,” recalled Yehuda Miller, a member of the team at the Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders. “He took them out the same way you would take diamonds out of a treasure chest. At that point in time they were all one color, carved out of a solid piece, and even then, they were so incredible and the detail was simply amazing.”
The group brought Siboni to America and set him up with a business consultant and production began overseas. After what seemed like endless months of waiting, the first prototypes were finally sent for the team to review.
“They were horrible,” said Miller. “They kept breaking. They were really, really bad. We made a decision that one of us had to go to China to check up on things.”
Everyone was relieved when the first shipment of new and improved Shpielmans was delivered in time for Chanukah 2016 and sold under the Glatt Play brand. But that sense of euphoria quickly turned to frustration as customers began experiencing problems with their Shpielmans.
“We had fixed all of the major problems but there were little issues, like Tatty’s and Zaidy’s hats didn’t stay on the character’s heads,” said Miller. “While a shtreimel that doesn’t fit exactly right could be considered a relatively minor problem from our perspective, the fact was that for our customers, these were big problems.”
Glatt Play immediately pulled all sets that included Tatty and Zaidy off store shelves until several thousand replacement shtreimels and biber hats could be sent from China to replace the defective headgear. As the months flew by, the company invested considerable effort into working out any further kinks so that they could launch the new and improved Shpielmans for Chanukah 2017.
With their long curly payos, hats that are permanently attached to the women’s heads, and uber-traditional attire, the Shpielmans are clearly a Chasidic family, but they seem to have a universal appeal. The figures sold well over the recent holiday season, thanks in part to a serious marketing push, according to Miller.
“We have gotten orders from all over the United States, from almost every state, and from people with last names that you would never imagine would be buying Jewish toys,” said Miller. “We have been featured on news sites and channels and have been overwhelmed by the response from the broader market.”
What is it about the Shpielmans that has consumers from outside the Orthodox Jewish market spending $39.99 for the deluxe set?
“We are very clearly recognizable and hit the more mainstream market with a product that is reminiscent of Fiddler on the Roof, which has been drawing traditional Jews, secular Jews and even non-Jews who have an affinity for them or just think they are cute,” noted Miller. “We also figured that anyone with Jewish roots would relate to them because even if it didn’t look like exactly like them, maybe it would remind them of Bubby.”
Yet at the same time, the Shpielmans have definitely hit big in the religiously observant world, making the family of eleven and their Shabbos paraphernalia one of this year’s hottest new toys.
“We tried to make them very authentic to appeal to the Chasidic market but the fact that they are adorable made them interesting to other segments of the Jewish community as well,” said Miller. “We walked a very interesting tightrope, representing the Chasidic, ultra Orthodox and frum community in a good way, while creating enough of a product that would still interest the general public. I don’t know of any other item that has managed to bridge that gap.”
What’s next for the Shpielmans? The family already has their own website, www.theshpielmans.com, with original videos, downloadable coloring pages and the full line of Shpielman products. Glatt Play is currently working on a Shpielmans coloring book and additional sets that could include yom tov items and possibly even different families representing other segments of the Jewish community.
Being able to put a positive face on a Jewish toy in a way that would appeal to the mass market has been extremely satisfying for Glatt Play, according to Miller who noted, “We are able to say that we are swimming in both ponds, which has gotten us out there in a way that no other Jewish toy has ever done.”