HOMEL or GOMEL (in Russian documents, Gomi or Gum; among Hebrew writers, Homiah):
District town in the government of Moghilef, Russia, situated on the right bank of the River Sozh, an affluent of the Dnieper. In 1902 its Jews numbered 26,161 in a total population of 40,446, or 56.4 per cent. It is not certain when Jews first settled in Homel; but as it came into the possession of Lithuania in 1537, it is probable that a Jewish community was established soon after that date. During the Cossacks' uprising in 1648 about 1,500 Jews were killed at Homel. Shabbethai Cohen in "Megillat Efah" and Gabriel Schusburg in "Petaḥ Teshubah"gave full accounts of the massacre. They relate that many of the wealthy Jews of the Ukraine sought refuge in Homel, which was a strongly fortified town after it came into the possession of Prince Chartoryski, and that the commandant of the fortress treacherously delivered them over to Hodki, leader of the Cossacks, in consideration of a payment of 1,200 florins. Outside of the city walls the Jews were stripped, and, surrounded by the Cos- sacks, were called upon to embrace the Greek Orthodox religion or meet a most terrible death. The rabbi, whose name was Eliezer (Shusburg calls him "Rabbi Moses"), persuaded them to hold fast to their faith. With the exception of a small number who managed to escape to the adjacent woods and of a few young men, the Jews remained faithful to their religion, and were killed in a horrible manner. Grätz ("Gesch." 2d ed., xi. 107) erroneously speaks of another massacre of thousands of Jews in Homel by the Haidamacks under Gonta June 20, 1768. He mistook Uman, which among the old Hebrew writers was called "Homian," for Homel (known in Hebrew as "Homiah").
Anti-Jewish outbreaks occurred in Homel in Sept., 1903. Rumors of impending riots had been circulated in the latter part of the previous month. The trouble arose on Friday, Sept. 11, when a watchman wished to buy from a Jewish woman a barrel of herring worth six rubles for one ruble fifty copecks. In the fight which followed between the Jewish pedlers of the market-place and the Christians who came to the aid of the watchman, one of the Christians was injured and died the same day. The riot was renewed on the following day, and when it had been quelled the town was practically under martial law.Anti-Jewish Riots in 1903.
Meanwhile a number of anti-Semitic agitators, probably executing the orders of the authorities, inflamed the passions of the mob, exhorting them not to leave their fellow Christians unavenged. On Monday, Sept. 14, about 100 railway employees gathered and began to break the windows and to enter and plunder the houses of the Jews in the poorest quarters of the town, one of which is called "Novaya Amerika" (="New America"). A number of Jews armed and began to defend themselves; but the soldiers prevented them from entering the streets where the plundering was going on, and forced them back to their homes, beating and arresting those who resisted. According to a reliable report, other soldiers and the police looked on in an indifferent way while the mob continued its plundering and committed all kinds of excesses. The shrieks of children could be heard in the streets which the soldiers had blocked against the Jews without; and when some of the Jews tried to force their way down the side-streets, the soldiers fired on them, wounding several among them and killing six.
The total number of Jews killed is given as 25; seriously injured, 100; slightly injured, 200. Three hundred and seventy-two Jewish houses and 200 stores were plundered and destroyed.
On Sept. 17 the bodies of the following persons who had been killed in the riots were buried in the Jewish cemetery of Homel: Elijah Oberman (tailor); Phoebus Halperin (aged 24; merchant); Zalman Kaganski (aged 20; only son); Mordecai Kaganski; Boruch Petitzki (aged 25); Behr Leikin (aged 45); Meïr Davydov; Zalman Cohn; Ḥayyim Piachetzki; and Behr Kevas.
The scroll of the Law, which was torn by the rioters during the destruction of the synagogue, was also buried. About one-third of the Jewish population escaped. While the chief of police and certain other God-fearing Christians gave shelter to some of the victims, several of the merchants took part in the riots.
From a report presented by representatives of the Jewish community of Homel to Assistant Minister of the Interior Durnovo (Oct. 1, 1903), it is evident that the first account of the riots in the official organ of the government was incorrect, and that they had been carefully planned several weeks previously.