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Hobby Lobby under fire due to absence of Hanukkah products

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 2 2013 6:50 p.m. MDT

Customers are seen at a Hobby Lobby store in Denver on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.

Ed Andrieski, Associated Press

Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned arts and crafts company with a chain of retail stores, has been under fire recently for its absence of Hanukkah and other Jewish holiday products.

The controversy began when one blogger, Kevin Berwitz, accused Hobby Lobby of being anti-Semitic for refusing to sell menorahs and other Jewish holiday items after a personal incident at a store in Marlboro, N.J.

“One of our friends entered the store, asked where the Chanukah goods were, was told there wouldn't be any, and asked why,” Berwitz wrote. “According to her, the answer was: ‘We don't cater to you people.’ ”

Berwitz detailed his discovery of why Hobby Lobby doesn’t sell the products, and said the decision to not sell those products is tied to Hobby Lobby’s owner David Green's beliefs more than it is to Christianity itself.

“The reason is that Mr. Green's ‘Christian values’ preclude him from selling anything related to a Jewish holiday,” Berwitz wrote. “And not just just Chanukah, but Passover too, as I learned by calling corporate headquarters and speaking to the company's customer relations department.”

Hobby Lobby issued a response to Entrepreneur.com and other news outlets.

"Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. is currently working with our buyers over our merchandise selection," a company spokesman said. "Due to multiple customer requests, we are currently evaluating our Holiday items and what we will carry in the future."

The spokesman continued, "Alleged comments made by employees are currently being investigated and will be addressed accordingly. These comments are in no way indicative of Hobby Lobby culture, the owners and the operators."

The Asbury Park Press, a local newspaper in New Jersey, spoke with Joel Jackson, a Hobby Lobby corporate manager. Jackson said representatives have reached out to Berwitz and his blog for additional information but have not received a response.

Jackson also told the Asbury Park Press he spoke to the Marlboro store and its workers, who said they were unaware an incident occurred.

The store Berwitz discussed was in Marlboro, N.J., which, according to the New York Daily News, is a highly Jewish area “and Berwitz said that is reason enough for Hobby Lobby to stock Jewish items.”

Hobby Lobby praised Marlboro in its response statement.

"Marlboro is a great city and has wonderful people and we are blessed to be a part of the community," the company spokesman told Entrepreneur.com.

Jillian Scheinfeld, a blogger at Keveller, a Jewish parenting information website, wrote her reaction to the recent events surrounding Hobby Lobby and Green’s ownership.

"Sadly, this Oklahoma-based business owner, David Green (which sounds pretty Jewish) equates being a Christian with disregarding Jewish holidays in a town such as Marlboro, New Jersey, which is 1/3 comprised of Jews,” she wrote. “His response is fluff talk for what appears to be unequivocal anti-semitic feelings.”

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported Hobby Lobby is not required by law to sell Hanukkah or “any other Jewish-related merchandise.”

Hobby Lobby has also made headlines recently for filing a lawsuit against the federal government over the Affordable Health Care Act's mandate that requires private employers to provide employees with birth control coverage. The lawsuit claims that fulfilling the mandate would violate the religious beliefs of Green and his family.

Email: hscribner@deseretnews.com

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