Within 36 hours on May 24-25, 1991, more than 14,300 Ethiopian Jews were covertly airlifted from Addis Ababa to Israel during Operation Solomon, the largest-ever individual Aliyah mission undertaken from any country in the world to date.
In 1991, Ethiopia had been embroiled in a decades-long civil war and was facing a famine. Rebel forces were advancing toward Addis Ababa and the Jews there, causing grave concern among Israeli and American-Jewish agencies on the ground in Ethiopia. Diplomats negotiated a deal with the Ethiopian government, and covert operations were arranged to enable evacuation at a moment’s notice.
After President George H.W. Bush sent a letter to the new Ethiopian President, Tesfaye Gebre Kidan, an agreement was reached on May 23, allowing Jews to leave Ethiopia all at once. Operation Solomon started the next day and a few days after the Operation was completed, Addis Ababa fell to the rebels.
In total, 35 aircraft were involved in Operation Solomon. One plane broke and holds the Guinness world record for the most passengers on an aircraft. All the seats had been removed, and at least 1,078 people were on board, including two babies born in-flight.
The Jewish Agency along with the Government of Israel were the main players in planning and executing Operation Solomon, working alongside and supported by organizations including the Israel Defense Forces, the American Joint Distribution Committee, the American Association for Ethiopian Jews, the Jewish Federations of North America (then UJA) and more.
As an Ethiopian who made Aliyah through Operation Solomon at age six, Shira’s 2020-21 experience as an emissary in Ethiopia was truly empowering.
In May 2021, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of Operation Solomon, a truly remarkable operation.
Three decades after the operation, two Ethiopian Jews who made Aliyah in Operation Solomon tell their stories.
In a 1991 story about Operation Solomon, JTA covers the "brilliantly planned and flawlessly executed operation."