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Making ethics entertaining – A South Windsor rabbi and rebbetzin create a winning series of games to impart values

By Cindy Mindell

SOUTH WINDSOR – What does an interactive sermon look like? Rabbi Jeff and Mindy Glickman of Temple Beth Hillel in South Windsor can offer 11 examples – each representing a game that they invented and that can now be found on store shelves.

Take, for example, “Don’t Be Greedy,” produced by the toy company Melissa and Doug. “To win, you have to know when to stop taking things, and if you’re happy with what you have, you’ll end up with a lot more,” says Rabbi Glickman. Cue Pirkei Avot, chapter 4: “Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot.”

“Games model values that people hold dear,” he says.

“You give a kid a doll and it teaches the kid how to care for something else. You give a kid blocks and it teaches them balance and it also teaches that in order to succeed, you have to fail a few times, and failure is an important part of success. We [infuse] values of humility and patience and observation in the games. Companies are just snapping them up.”

They must be doing something right. Now, just four years after they ventured into the world of inventing games, the Glickmans are finalists in the “Rising Star” category of the 2015 TAGIE (Toy and Game Inventor) Awards. TAGIE Awards are presented based on online voting, which closes on Nov. 1 at midnight (tagieawards.com/voting/).

The couple’s first game emerged in 2011, when the rabbi and his then-10-year-old son were playing with magnets in the temple office. “I came up with a game and we both liked it and we both giggled, and it seemed to me that it had, surprisingly, all kinds of different components to game-play,” recalls Glickman. There were elements of the silly and unexpected, and it was quick, “and you giggled because magnets are really fun,” he says.

Others who tried the game liked it as well. Glickman showed the magnet game to a local toy-store proprietor, who promptly ordered 10 sets. Other toy stores followed suit. The Glickmans approached the Bananagrams game company in Paukucket, R.I., pointing out that the magnet game in a little sack was similar to the Bananagrams word game in a little sack. But the company gets a lot of pitches from game inventors, and it’s difficult to get in the door, according to the Glickmans. After several phone calls and emails, the rabbi finally pulled his clerical card, explaining that he would be in the neighborhood to visit a hospital patient.

“They said, ‘Oh, really, a rabbi? All right, come on in and show us your game,’” Glickman says. “We start playing the game with the head of the company and he starts doing well and he says, ‘I love this game’ and then he has the move that doesn’t do so well and he says, ‘I hate this game.’ Afterwards, he said, ‘People show us games all the time but this is the finest game I’ve ever seen.’”

Bananagrams has never licensed a game from an outside inventor, Glickman says, but they took the magnet game for further evaluation. Even though it received high grades from staff, the company decided not to produce it.

So the Glickmans brought the magnets to 30 or 40 other companies, including Hasbro, the largest toy- and game-maker and another long shot. Once again, the rabbinic bona fides made the difference.

“I emailed, I called, I sent a hand-written letter on rabbi’s stationery, and I finally connected with a guy named Mike, who said, ‘Are you a real rabbi? I’m turning 60 this week and I’m looking for meaning in my life,” Glickman recalls. “We started talking about Buddha and all kinds of stuff and he gave us a two-hour appointment with our magnets.”

Finally, R & R Games, Inc. offered a contract and produced the game as “AttrAction.”

“Suddenly, you have separation anxiety with your game, because it’s your baby and now we’ve just put it up for adoption,” says Mindy. “Jeff’s mother, Judy, said, ‘Don’t worry, Jeffrey, you’ll come up with more ideas’ and that was it.”

They did. Hasbro would go on to produce five of the Glickmans’ games. Today, through their company, “Turn to the Wonderful,” the couple has 11 different games already produced or in production, by nine companies that include Melissa and Doug, Fat Brain, Back Alley Traders, Foam Brain, and Identity Games. This month, Israel-based Gaya Games began selling the Glickmans’ “ADDvantage” in its stores.

The couple has created a Jewish educational component around the games, training nearly 100 counselors at the Union of Reform Judaism’s Camp Harlam in Pennsylvania in using games to model values.

For more information on Turn to the Wonderful: wonderfulturn.com.

 

 

 

The Glickmans show off their game “Tiny World,” based on

Psalm 8, which is intended to teach love and awe for God

by looking closely at God’s creations.

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