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Social Media, Social Justice: How Twitter helped address the 'Hobby Lobby Chanukah Incident'

Hobby Lobby chains came under fire Oct. 3 for a reported refusal to sell Chanukah decorations.

If you are like me, you heard all about the "Hobby Lobby Chanukah Incident" yesterday, Oct. 3. From Facebook to blogs to discussions around the dinner table, it seemed everyone was talking about how Hobby Lobby refused to sell Chanukah decorations.

The story made the rounds like wildfire: a Jewish customer could not find any Chanukah items at her local Hobby Lobby in Marlboro, N.J., despite a plethora of Christmas items. When she made an inquiry at the store, a Hobby Lobby employee responded, "We don't cater to you people." After hearing of this incident, a Jewish man called the store to inquire and was told, " Because Mr. Green is the owner of the company, he's a Christian, and those are his values."

The Mr. Green in question is Steve Green, President and owner of more than 550 Hobby Lobby stores nationwide, all closed on Sunday, who has one of the largest collections of ancient biblical artifacts.

Once Rabbi Donald A. Weber of Marlboro's Temple Rodeph Torah called for a boycott of Hobby Lobby stores, the story was ablaze.

That prompted JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council (@ChicagoJCRC) to issue the tweet, "Very disappointed in @HobbyLobbyStore refusing to sell #Hanukkah or #Jewish items. Hard to believe." The tweet linked to a Huffington Post article and was just one of many public critiques and inquiries Hobby Lobby received.

A mere few hours later, JCRC received two direct responses from Hobby Lobby, including an apology. Hobby Lobby said, "@ChicagoJCRC We have carried Jewish holiday items in the past and we're working with buyers on what we carry going forward, based on demand" and later, "@ChicagoJCRC As for the employee comments, they do not reflect our company values and we sincerely apologize for the offense."

Shortly thereafter, Steve Green issued a public, written apology.

To receive a direct response from a large retailer is a rarity, even with the incredible access we now have due to social media. To receive an apology and an acknowledgement of employee misconduct might just be a Twitter Chanukah miracle.

To follow this story and receive frequent updates, follow JCRC on Twitter @ChicagoJCRC.

Stephanie Sklar is Director of Domestic Affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

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