GARDNER, Mass. (AP) _ Hadassah Lieberman underscored her Jewish faith and the diversity of the Democratic presidential ticket during a return trip to her hometown Thursday _ her first campaign event apart from her husband.

Mrs. Lieberman, wife of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Democrats' choice for vice president, saluted this central Massachusetts city of 22,000, where her father once was a rabbi, as a place ``that respected others that were not exactly like them.''

Campaigning with Tipper Gore, wife of Democratic ticket leader Vice President Al Gore, Mrs. Lieberman waved and blew a kiss toward a mostly Christian crowd of several hundred on the front lawn of an elementary school. She graduated there in 1966, when it was Gardner High School. A huge sign welcomed her home.

Her late father Samuel, who fled Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust, brought the family to this old industrial town because it had an opening for rabbi.

Mrs. Lieberman, who was born in a Prague refugee camp, was 3 when the family came to Gardner. Her mother Ella, a concentration camp survivor, and her brother, Ari, joined her Thursday.

``She represents immigrants coming to America and being welcomed by communities such as this one,'' Mrs. Gore said. ``We all know our country is stronger because of our diversity.''

Democratic Rep. John Olver said Lieberman's presence on the ticket moves the country closer to a time when any American can end up in the White House.

Phyllis Lakin of Gardner, a childhood friend of Mrs. Lieberman, said most voters will look beyond the Lieberman family's religion. ``When all the furor wears off, I do believe this country is great enough and magnanimous enough to see the man.''

Frank Hirons, whose daughter went to school with Mrs. Lieberman, also said their faith ``will absolutely be a nonevent in the campaign.''

``It seems like in this wonderful country of ours, we should be beyond that,'' said Eveline Beauregard, a Roman Catholic who was the family's next-door neighbor.

Some said they were not surprised that Mrs. Lieberman and her husband were the ones breaking a barrier as a Jewish couple in a campaign for the White House. They recalled that Mrs. Lieberman was an honors student, a talented actress and winner of a political essay contest.

``She never sought the limelight, but the limelight found her,'' said Mary Walsh Glotch, a classmate.

There were some critics too.

Several dozen workers from H&R 1871, a Gardner shotgun maker, carried protest signs nearby. They said the Clinton-Gore administration is partly to blame for municipal lawsuits accusing their company and other gunmakers of inadequate safety.

A Republican in the crowd, Bruce Seibert, hoisted portraits of the wives of the two Republican candidates, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. ``Some people are affected by the wives more than by the candidates,'' he said.

The two Democrats' wives delivered the same message later to a crowd of about 600 at the University of Toledo in Ohio.