This Day in Jewish History / Operation Magic Carpet Touches Down

The final two flights of a massive exodus of Yemenite Jews land in Israel, bringing a slew of new immigrants to the Jewish state and marking the end of a once-flourishing Diaspora community.

On September 24, 1950, the final two planes carrying Jews from Yemen to Israel as part of "Operation Kanfei Nesharim" (“On Wings of Eagles”) touched down at Lod airport with 177 new immigrants. Although most of the remaining Jews in Yemen continued to trickle out up through 1962 (when civil war in North Yemen led to the closing of the gates), it was between 1948 and 1950 that the vast majority of the nation's 48,818 Jews departed the country. They piled aboard 430 flights for the young Jewish state, prompted by a lethal pogrom in Aden that followed the 1947 UN vote on the partition of Palestine.

Today, there are estimated to be fewer than 400 Jews still living in Yemen.

The Yemenite exodus is better known by its nickname, "Operation Magic Carpet," but though that epithet evokes a speedy and efficient rescue, recent scholarly work on Yemenite immigration suggests otherwise.

The Jews of Yemen and Aden were widely dispersed around the country, and nearly a thousand of them died during the operation, either on the border between Yemen and Aden, or while waiting to depart a transit camp in the port city of Aden. In a recent book on the topic, researcher Esther Meir-Glitzenstein places blame for poor planning and worse on Yemeni and British authorities, but also, principally, on the Joint Distribution Committee, which had been entrusted by Israel with overseeing the immigration operation.

Once in Israel, there was a high mortality rate among the newly arrived children, and rumors about the kidnapping of Yemenite babies by authorities circulated for decades. An official inquiry, which reported its findings in 2001 after a seven-year investigation, rejected the claims of any criminal activity, and was able to establish the fate of 972 of 1,033 children who were reported as missing during these early years. Some died and were buried without their parents being properly informed, the report said, but a large number were apparently adopted by veteran families, in decisions made at the local level by social workers.