September 24, 1950
According to some sources, Jews had lived in Yemen even before the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. The community expanded during the time of the Maccabees and following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Composed mostly of small communities living in relative isolation to one another, the Jews of Yemen maintained ties with other Jewish centers in the Middle East, including those in the Land of Israel and as far away as Spain.
For centuries, a central belief of Yemen’s Jews was that when the prophet Ezra had encouraged Jews to return from exile to Israel to rebuild the Temple (circa 538 BCE), the Jews of Yemen refused, believing that a new Temple would also be destroyed, once again sending them into exile. This helped create a practice in which most Yemeni Jews believed that a return to the Land of Israel was dependent on the arrival of the Messiah. Like other Jews throughout the world, this belief was an important component of Yemeni Jewish practice, prayers and rituals.
By 1872, the Ottoman Empire gained control of large sections of Yemen including San’a, which had a large Jewish population. With both Palestine and Yemen under Ottoman control, it became easier for Yemen’s Jews to move to the Land of Israel. Between 1881 and 1917, approximately 5,000 Yemeni Jews made Aliya. Not only was travel easier, but many felt that by moving to the Land of Israel they would hasten the coming of the Messiah.
In 1922, new restrictions aimed at stopping Jewish emigration from Yemen slowed down the number of Jews who left Yemen for the Land of Israel. At the conclusion of Israel’s War of Independence in 1949, Yemen changed its official policy, despite the objections of the Arab League. Jews were now allowed to leave the country provided that they sold their homes and property before leaving. As rumors spread of a planned Israeli operation to airlift the country’s Jews to Israel, thousands of Yemeni Jews began to travel towards the British held colony of Aden. Some walked for as many as three weeks to complete the journey.
The airlifts coordinated by the Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency began in February 1949. The last two planes carrying 177 Yemenite Jews to Israel as part of Operation Magic Carpet left Aden and arrived in Israel. During Operation Magic Carpet, nearly 50,000 Yemenite Jews were brought to Israel between June 1949 and September 24, 1950. The operation is also referred to as “Operation on the Wings of Eagles,” from the Biblical passage in Exodus, 19:4, “…and I will transport you on eagles’ wings and bring you to me…”
Read more about Operation Magic Carpet on the Israeli Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption webpage.