Hanukkah comes early this year ... except at 550 Hobby Lobby stores, where it doesn't come at all because the owner won't carry any such merchandise.
The national craft chain owned by conservative billionaire Steve Green and modeled after his “Christian values” is in hot water over this apparent policy.
“I will never set foot in a Hobby Lobby. Ever.” wrote Ken Berwitz, the New Jersey blogger who brought the Hobby Lobby Hanukkah flap to light last week.
Berwitz’s outrage has spread, with others taking Hobby Lobby to task as a store that courts the public, but refuses to stock anything related to Judaism.
In response to questions about its lack of Hanukkah items - no paper dreidels, menorah-making kits, greeting cards - Hobby Lobby said in a statement:
“Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. is currently working with our buyers over our merchandise selection. Our customers have brought this to our attention."
"We are currently evaluating our Holiday items and what we will carry.”
The controversial Green owns more than 550 Hobby Lobby stores across the nation, and all of them are closed on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath.
He is also known for his lawsuit against Obamacare, which he says forces him to insure employees for medical services he objects to on religious grounds.
Many legal experts say his case may make it to the Supreme Court.
The Hobby Lobby Hanukkah controversy began when Berwitz's friends could not find anything related to Hanukkah at their local Hobby Lobby in Marlboro, N.J..
According to Berwitz, one of the women asked about bar mitzvah cards, and a Hobby Lobby salesperson replied: “We don’t cater to you people.”
That story prompted Berwitz, who owns a market research company and writes the “Hopelessly Partisan” blog, to call the Marlboro store and ask why.
Berwitz wrote that he received the following response: “Because Mr. Green is the owner of the company, he’s a Christian, and those are his values.”
Berwitz said he called Hobby Lobby’s corporate headquarters in Oklahoma, and the company confirmed that it does not stock items for Hanukkah.
It declined to give a reason, but they don't stock anything. When he asked whether the company carries Passover merchandise, he was again told no.
Rabbi Donald A. Weber of Marlboro’s Temple Rodeph Torah says Hobby Lobby has the right not to stock items, and people have the right not to shop there.
“Then try any of the local stores which recognize and respect our traditions including, believe it or not, the Christmas Tree Shops in Freehold,” he wrote.
“If you want to buy items that are sold in Hobby Lobby, it’s your choice whether to go there or somewhere else. Personally, I’ll go somewhere else.”
Hobby Lobby’s Vince Parker, who said he “takes the owner’s phone calls and e-mails” at the company, also sent the following to Religion News Service:
“Alleged comments made by employees are being investigated ... these comments are in no way indicative of Hobby Lobby culture, the owners and the operators.”
He added, as an olive branch of sorts to quiet the critics: “Marlboro is a great city and has wonderful people and we are blessed to be a part of the community.”