(RNS) The owner of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain, under fire because his stores did not carry Hanukkah merchandise and because of a reported employee’s remark that offended many Jews, has apologized and announced that some stores will begin to carry Jewish holiday items.

Steve Green, President of Hobby Lobby, speaks at the Religion News Writers Association Conference in Austin, Texas on Thursday (Sept. 26). RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Steve Green, President of Hobby Lobby, speaks at the Religion News Writers Association Conference in Austin, Texas on Thursday (Sept. 26). RNS photo by Sally Morrow


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

In back-to-back statements Thursday and Friday (Oct. 3 and 4), company president Steve Green said Hobby Lobby is sorry for comments “that may have offended anyone, especially our Jewish customers and friends,” and that it will carry Jewish-themed items in New York and New Jersey by early November “to test the market.”

That’s in time for Hanukkah, which begins this year on Nov. 27.

The company credited “overwhelming demand in the Northeast” for its decision and added: “We appreciate the feedback we’ve received from our customers, and we hope these products will meet their needs.”

Some have long taken issue with Hobby Lobby’s wide choice of Christmas items but lack of any Hanukkah merchandise, even in areas with a significant number of Jews. The apology and the merchandising decision are likely to gratify some within the Jewish community and elsewhere who wondered whether Green’s conservative Christianity translated into a disregard for Jewish customers.

Suspicions heightened this week after a report that a Hobby Lobby employee in the company’s Marlboro, N.J., store responded “we don’t cater to you people,” when asked if the store carried bar mitzvah cards.

Several publications, including Religion News Service, wrote about the controversy, stirring a heated online debate in which reactions ranged from cries of anti-Semitism to cries that Green is being demonized for his strong Christian faith.

On Friday, the Anti-Defamation League, a national group that counters anti-Semitism, accepted Hobby Lobby’s apology, and strongly defended the company.

“ADL firmly believes that the religious views of a business owner cannot be a basis to infringe upon the legal rights of others, but a store choosing not to carry Hanukkah items does not violate anyone’s rights,” read the statement, which was released before the announcement about the merchandising decision.

“Moreover, we have no reason to believe that Hobby Lobby has refused to stock Hanukkah items because of hostility to Jews or anti-Semitism,” the ADL statement continued.

In Hobby Lobby’s apology, Green outlined his connections to the Jewish community in the U.S. and Israel.

“Our family has a deep respect for the Jewish faith and those who hold its traditions dear,” read the statement.

“We’re proud contributors to Yad Vashem, (Israel’s official Holocaust museum) as well as to other museums and synagogues in Israel and the United States.”

The statement also noted that the company has “previously carried merchandise in our stores related to Jewish holidays.”

Marlboro blogger Ken Berwitz — who ignited the recent controversy with his account of Hobby Lobby’s responses to questions about the lack of Jewish items — said he was “gratified” by Green’s most recent announcement.

“I hope that this was simply a realization about what should be stocked in stores as opposed to being embarrassed into doing it,” he told Religion News Service.

“I think it’s the former,” he added.

Berwitz wrote on his “Hopelessly Partisan” blog that after calling the Marlboro Hobby Lobby recently, he was told Green’s Christian faith precluded the chain from carrying Jewish items.

When he then called Hobby Lobby headquarters in Oklahoma City, Berwitz said he was told the company was not stocking items for Hanukkah or Passover, but was not given a reason.

Green, a conservative billionaire, owns more than 550 Hobby Lobby stores nationwide, all of which are closed on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. He is also known for his lawsuit against President Obama’s health care law, which he said forces him to provide employees with free insurance coverage for some contraceptive services that he objects to on religious grounds.

Here is Hobby Lobby’s apology in its entirety:

Statement from Hobby Lobby president Steve Green

OKLAHOMA CITY – Hobby Lobby President Steve Green has issued the following statement on behalf of the company:

“We sincerely apologize for any employee comments that may have offended anyone, especially our Jewish customers and friends. Comments like these do not reflect the feelings of our family or Hobby Lobby.

Our family has a deep respect for the Jewish faith and those who hold its traditions dear. We’re proud contributors to Yad Vashem, as well as to other museums and synagogues in Israel and the United States.

We are investigating this matter and absolutely do not tolerate discrimination at our company or our stores. We do not have any policies that discriminate; in fact, we have policies that specifically prohibit discrimination.

We have previously carried merchandise in our stores related to Jewish holidays. We select the items we sell in our stores based on customer demand. We are working with our buyers to re-evaluate our holiday items and what we will carry in the future.”

Here is Hobby Lobby’s statement about its decision to carry Jewish items:

    Hobby Lobby to carry Jewish holiday items

 OKLAHOMA CITY – Hobby Lobby President Steve Green issued the following statement on Oct. 4, 2013:

“Due to overwhelming demand in the Northeast, we are pleased to announce that we will begin offering Jewish holiday items in a number of stores to test the market in New York and New Jersey.

We will continue to evaluate the demand for products. We appreciate the feedback we’ve received from our customers, and we hope these products will meet their needs.

Customers can expect to see those items in stores in early November.”

KRE/YS END MARKOE

41 Comments

    • Comment marked as low quality by the editors. Show comment

      Why should a store be forced to sell items that only 2% of the population AT MOST will ever buy? Should they have to stock Hindu religious paraphernalia or Islamic keffiyeh? If Americans tried to force a Jewish store owner to stock Christian goods, there would be a Federal civil rights lawsuit and they would be called “Nazis” “anti-Semites” and “racists.” Hobby Lobby should have told the Jewish supremacists to go F* themselves.

        • Even simpler: Go find a store that sells Jewish Items and actually spend your money there. It’s even better than a boycott because you’re supporting someone who provides you with what you desire and ignoring the one who isn’t. It’s a win-win because you’re not just laying around on the floor kicking and screaming that you’re being oppressed because some big box store isn’t giving you bar mitzvah cards.

        • Esther,

          I stopped going to Hobby Lobby, long ago. Money spent at Hobby Lobby supports things that I oppose.

          I support equality for all and reproductive freedom.

          Hobby Lobby supports the opposite.

      • You’re an idiot for the following reasons:

        1. The Jewish population in the Marlboro, NJ area is about 35% of the population.

        2. This isn’t a religious store, it’s a craft store.

        • George Marshall Worthington

          Right to the point — and thank you! There are many stores that identify themselves as Christian-themed, eg., bookstores and the like. Hobby Lobby is a craft store and markets itself as such. That is what makes the lawsuit against the ACA so absurd.

          And to your point about Marlboro, NJ. This just shows that Hobby Lobby is discriminating. They can order inventory based on regional demographics and seasonality.

          All facts taken into consideration, the owners and employees of Hobby Lobby are bigots, plain and simple. I say boycott now!

          • George, the lawsuit filed against the ACA (for your information, if you are interested-which I doubt), is about freedom of religion.

            No one, constitutionally, has a right to restrict the exercise thereof nor place upon those who have certain religious beliefs any requirement that they violate those beliefs.

            The owners are very religious people and do not believe in abortion or any other medical procedures which violate the sanctity of life.

            Therefore, paying for such procedures (particularly under demand from the government) violates their conscience.

            Get it? It’s as simple as that!

  1. •I spent an hour at the Marlboro store trying to help them and spoke to corporate. I do not believe they are anti-Semitic and believe certain people are trying to destroy their reputation. I have suggested sources to obtain channukah items and how to fight the bad press. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

      • As someone earlier tried to point out to your bigotry-addled brain, they don’t have to do anything. But it would be a sign of insensitivity if they were (a) in a heavily Hindu or Muslim area, (b) there were Hindu or Muslim holidays that lent themselves to arts and crafts, and (c) they didn’t stock a single thing relating to those holidays.

  2. Why would a person think a hobby store would carry religious items? So, I went looking. It turns out the owner of Hobby Lobby bought a one of a kind Jewish artifact. This fellow in N.J. must have a problem with that and decided to play the infamous ‘jew card.’ Who would have thought there was kosher balsa wood and styrene balls.. Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg that is a sign of a mature man astute in politics. My hat goes off to you. Now about that illegal organ trade supported by the Isreali healthcare system. How many ‘rabbis’ have to be arrested? A slight change in the end of death belief would cure that.

  3. That’s funny… when I go to Hobby Lobby I am going there to buy stuff like beads, clay, fabric, thread, needles, paints, canvases, brushes, paper cutters, scrapbook supplies…ya know…HOBBY MERCHANDISE. I sure don’t go to Hobby Lobby expecting to see craft foam cut outs of Isis or Anubis or Zeus or Jupiter just because a holiday I celebrate is coming soon. If you want Jewish merchandise maybe you should look for a store that has that in stock. Or maybe some Jewish person with a lot of money could open a Jewish Hobby store for all those people being ~*shunned*~ from Hobby Lobby. Really.. this is like walking into a Christian Book Store and getting uppity because they don’t have books on Kwanzaa or Celtic Mythology.

    • If they carry xmas decorations why not hannukah decorations too? This is not the same as Christian book shop it is a crafts and decorations shop. The two are not the same. Aside from that,to fail to stock Jewish items in an area heavily populated by Jews is surely a very poor business move.

  4. I would find the comments made by the sales staff more offensive than the fact that they do not carry Jewish items. I’ve seen that issue at Jewel and other big-name grocers during Passover – it’s common, nothing to be upset over. A conversation with the store manager usually has good results – if you want something to be carried for your particular needs, just ask. No one is obligated to carry specific items for minority holidays – it’s really going out on a limb to accuse Hobby Lobby of anti-Semtism. The blogger should exercise restraint when using that term. Anyone who is a first or second-generation Holocaust survivor knows what that means, and this isn’t it.

    • Daniel Berry, NYC

      I agree with you totally about the staffmember’s comment being, by far, more offensive than the mere fact of not carrying the merchandise. Who in God’s name could say such a thing in our time?

    • ” The blogger should exercise restraint when using that term”

      WHAT!! Now why would any self respecting blogger who desires fame and attention for their stupid blog want to go and do that? I would not be surprised if the entire situation was made up entirely by this blogger who just wanted attention for the blog! Was there any video made of these employees acting rudely to Jewish customers and saying things like “We don’t serve your kind” or anything else? OR are we just supposed to take some blogger’s word as fact? I call BS on the whole situation. This guy just had a beef with Hobby Lobby and was looking for a reason to troll and get some attention and money by sensationalizing some imagined “Jewish Oppression” and ruffling the feathers of a bunch of sensitive Jewish people and the internet armchair social justice white knights to go screaming and hollering around and making a fuss.

      IF I’m wrong and the situation really did happen with employees saying stuff like “your kind” and being rude to Jewish people then that is wrong. Those employees should be either fired or put through sensitivity training. However that still shouldn’t mean that HL should have to be forced to carry Jewish or any other religious merchandise if the owner doesn’t want to. His store, his money, his rules. You can either shop there for your beads, fabric, cheap chinese slave trinket home decor or you can take your feet and pitter patter over to MICHEAL’S or some other store. This is not rocket science.

  5. who needs them to sell Hanukkah products? I only shop at www.WorldOfJudaica.com for Hanukkah – they have a huge selection, great prices, and they ship to the US from Israel. Nothing beats a real Israeli menorah for Hanukkah!

    • Because many people are too lazy or impatient to buy over the internet. Some are to paranoid that their identity will be stolen if they purchase online.

      But some of the people who were sent away from Hobby Lobby were seeking Bar Mitzvah cards and not just Chanukah items. People who buy cards probably don’t want to wait weeks for them to arrive.

  6. While I am sympathetic with the concerns expressed about this policy I am disappointed that they chose to fight this battle publicly.

    It is, however, a sad irony when a religion popularized on the basis of freedom from Biblical law now has a large contingency of adherents who in the name of the Bible legalistically avoid the very celebrations ordained and observed in the Bible. Meanwhile holidays rooted in non-Biblical religions are promoted as more legitimately Christian than those observed by the Nazarene himself.

    Could it be that this is really more about distinguishing oneself from those who are different than any principled teaching in the Christian Bible. The Christian Bible explicitly allows one to purchase meat which had been sacrificed to idols…where does this notion that Biblical holidays are forbidden come from? Are the Biblical holidays less Christian that idolatrous sacrifices?

    With regard to the notion that a store cannot be expected to stock any sort of item for each and every customer, this is a fair point but irrelevant. The customers where asking for items comparable to others being sold and available at regular retail outlets, not “matzah and tefillin” or other similar ritual items or religious garb. Furthermore the report makes clear that they were not refraining for doing so because there was an insufficient market but because of ideology. If the customer had been told that there wasn’t enough demand this wouldn’t be a story (although my experience in retail is that paying customers rarely find it a satisfying answer when the product is available).

    I certainly would not be comfortable selling non-Jewish religious/holiday items and would fight any attempt to by the government to impose such an obligation upon me, or anyone. Nevertheless, no one is proposing a legislative solution to this conflict and such talk is a red herring.

  7. If indeed the individual sales associate did make a comment that was insensitive to the customer (whom reportedly was of the jewish faith or nationality) then there was a gross foul made. Not by Hobby Lobby, but by some ignorant individual.

    To say Hobby Lobby in and of itself was responsible for what the employee said would be like saying that baby zebras are responsible for their own death because they walked in front of a lion. They both are ludachris.

    I know for a fact that Hobby Lobby does sell craft items relating to symbols used in concerns to every religion or belief. From the Jew to the Gentile, Muslim to the Budist. They don’t sell cards, but they sure do sell the things you may need to mke your own card (the hobby part of the idea here).

  8. 1. Christianity began as a Jewish Sect.
    2. Messianic Jews are often counted as Christians. And are welcome at all Ecumenical Christian gatherings.
    3. A Christian who visits a Reform congregation can participate in the service without being asked to do anything that is contrary to the Christian faith.
    4. The Hebrew Bible used by the Jewish Faith is identical in contents to the Old Testament as used by Protestants, and Mormons. It is also identical in contents to the Hebrew Scriptures used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the protocanonical books of the Old Testament used by Catholic and Orthodox Christians.
    5. The holiday in question, Hanukkah, or the Feast of Dedication, is not mentioned in the Jewish Scriptures but is mentioned in the Christian Scriptures.

  9. After the initial story broke, I called my local hobby lobby. The salesperson who answered the phone did not know if the store stocked Hanukkah items. She found a manger who informed me that, because the owner of the chain was “a conservative Christian and does not believe in those values, we don’t carry that stuff.” I would have been satisfied with a response that there was not a sufficient Jewish population in the area to turn a profit selling items for Jewish holidays; that is a sound business decision that would hold true for my locale. The problem with the religious response given (and where I call foul), is that the Hobby Lobby chain that is owned by a conservative Christian, which according to its own management does not carry items related to religions values they do not agree with DOES sell items for Halloween.

    • Halloween isn’t a religion. It’s a holiday in the modern sense and not a holy day. Please don’t mix Halloween up with Samhain which is the old Gaelic holiday that Halloween borrows ideas from. And don’t mix it up with All Saints Day which comes after or All Hallow’s Eve which, like Samhain, Halloween borrows ideas from.. And if you notice what they sell at HL for Halloween is cheap and cheesy monster and spooky stuff but nothing that even looks remotely religious. Don’t let the goth kid down the street telling you the ghosts, vampires and black cats that pepper his bedroom is because of his “religion.” It’s just a holiday like 4th of July or Thanksgiving.

      No where in Christianity does it say that you can’t celebrate Halloween. Most modern xtians celebrate it just fine. Only a few groups really deny it completely like Jehovah’s Witnesses.

      But really, with your logic I should call up a local All Christian book store and ask them if they sell Kwanzaa books. Then when they tell me no because they are a Christian Book store I should start writing blog posts and screaming about how this Christian book store is oppressing the rights of those who practice Kwanzaa and being racist. If I open a store selling nothing but women’s shoes should I be forced to sell men’s shoes just because half the population in the area is male? Would my denying carrying men’s shoes be considered sexist and make me a Misandrist? That’s just ridiculous.

  10. While the residents of Marlboro have many alternatives, I live in Denton where there is nothing. Target carries a tiny endcap of Chanukah items for about 2 weeks. Not a single grocery store in Denton with a population of over 120,000 carries any kosher for Passover items. Most carry stale “Not for Passover” matzoh if anything at all. Denton has two universities. The largest – UNT has a Hillel and a chapter of AEPi. The synagogue in Flower Mound used to be in Denton. A large portion of the congregation still lives in Denton.

    I have asked every grocery store manager in the entire town to please carry “Kosher for Passover” matzoh, even if they don’t carry anything else so I don’t have to drive so very far. I point out that if they were to carry just a few essentials for Passover, they would be the only store in town and would sell out quickly. Still nothing.

    I wasn’t shopping at Hobby Lobby, so I don’t care about that. I do care that with 3 Krogers, an Albertsons, a Brookshires, a Cupboard, a Natural Grocers, an Aldi, and a Super Walmart and a Super Target, not a one carries Kosher for Passover Matzoh at Passover.

  1. […] Published: October 4, 2013. Amid criticism regarding the absence of Jewish-them więcej… Hobby Lobby apologizes for Hanukkah flap – Religion News Service Hobby Lobby apologizes for Hanukkah flapReligion News Service(RNS) The owner of the Hobby Lobby […]

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