12 November 2009

Belarus: Gomel site now live

The Jewish community of Gomel, Belarus, now has a home on the Internet at JewishGen.org.

Paul Zoglin has created a great site with city and family photos, historical and contemporary maps, stories, links and much more.

Above, see the Great Synagogue (built mid-19th-century).

See the Gomel site here. The JewishGen Family Finder, lists more than 400 researchers looking for family connections to this city.

Tracing the Tribe found it relevant as our Talalay family has a connection to the town, when Iosif Talalay (of Mogilev, Vorotinshtina and Moscow) married Sophia Brusterman of Gomel and they moved to Moscow, before later moving to Berlin, London and the US.

The three towns of Mogilev, Bobruisk and Gomel - including regional shtetls - were well interconnected. People from all three towns married spouses from those towns and moved there for business. My great-grandfather's brother David Talalay married a girl from Bobruisk and set up his business there, before moving to Newark, New Jersey in the early 1900s.

Because of this interrelatedness, it pays for researchers of one of the three towns to also look at available records in the other two. Gomel was about 100 miles SSE of Mogilev.

Gomel in a nutshell

While the earliest historical references to the city date from 1142, Jews probably settled there after the area was annexed by Lithuania in 1537. During the 1648 Cossack uprising some 2,000 Jews were killed and many converted by force to Christianity. In 1665, when the Poles returned, those had been forcibly converted were permitted to return to Judaism. There were 685 Jewish families in Gomel by 1765. The city became the district capital in 1852, and its location and railroad helped create a major business center with an annual fair attended by Jewish merchants.

In 1847, there were 2,373 Jews, with another 1,552 in nearby Belitsa. Fifty years later, the Jewish population had increased to 20,385 Jews in Gomel, more than half the total population. There were 30 synagogues, including the mid-19th century Great Synagogue. Forest products (timber, lumber) and government contracts made some Gomel residents wealthy, although the majority were poor.

The 1903 pogrom in Gomel as described in the Jewish Encyclopedia is at the site, and includes some names of those who were killed. during WWI, refugees from war zones went to Gomel and yeshivas were relocated there from Poland and Lithuania.

Read more about Gomel's history (and sources for additional details) through current times at the website, including population figurse for 1959, 1979, 2000. The 1999 Belarus census indicated there were still more than 4,000 Jews living in the town, which was impacted severely by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Beit Yaakov, the only synagogue building, was returned to the community in the late 1980s. For more information on Gomel, click here.

According to stories told to Paul by his guides during a July 2009 visit, there were both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews living there. One Jewish neighborhood was settled by 100 families from the Armenian town of Erevan who were brought to Gomel after the Russian army defeated the Turkish army. According to the story, they were definitely Jews as one of the first documents from that group of families was a letter asking to build a synagogue in the town.

View all the site's pages and make sure to contact Paul (his email is on the homepage of the site) to add information, photos, family stories to the site. To see other Belarus communities with similar sites, click here.

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