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Synagogue Welcomes Homeless With Christmas Tree

OAK PARK (AP) - A suburban Detroit synagogue has opened its doors to some of the community's homeless for eight Christmases and helped make their holiday by erecting a tree.

There has been debate as to whether the Christmas tree violates ancient Jewish laws, but Rabbi Robert Gamer told the Detroit Free Press that it is "about respecting others and their traditions."

"If a bunch of Jews were homeless and staying in a church, would they be allowed to light a menorah? I'd like to think so," Gamer said.

Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park, just north of Detroit, allows clients of the South Oakland Shelter to use its kitchen, classrooms and Youth Lodge because churches that work with the shelter during the year are busy with their own activities over the Christmas holiday.

The Congregation's volunteers "really step up, right when our churches can't do it," South Oakland Shelter executive director Ryan Hertz said.

"Congregation Beth Shalom does a really nice job of giving an opportunity to our guests who would like to celebrate Christmas to do so," he added.

The most sacred of Jewish holidays already have passed by the time Christmas rolls around, synagogue executive director Steven Weiss said.

The observance of Hanukkah started Wednesday and doesn't interfere with hosting the shelter's 30 to 35 clients, he said.

VaLorie Rogan, her daughter and her granddaughter have spent the week at the synagogue. They moved to Michigan after a tornado destroyed their home in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in April.

"I don't know why, but it's God's plan that we're here," said Rogan, 50, while having dinner near the Christmas tree in the synagogue. "I think everything's going to work out for us."

Helping the homeless get through their worries - at least temporarily - is part of the volunteers' plan at the synagogue, volunteer coordinator Julie Grodin said.

"Last year, we had kind of a Hanukkah-Christmas thing all together," she said. "There was one mom who told me, `This has been a happy place for us, in this horrible time when we lost our house.' It felt so good to hear that."

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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