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May 24, 2020

May 24, 1991: During Operation Solomon, the World Record for the Most Passengers on a Commercial Airplane is 1,122

Operation Solomon was a covert Israeli military operation to airlift Ethiopian Jews to Israel from May 24 to May 25, 1991. Non-stop flights of 35 Israeli aircraft, including Israeli Air Force C-130s and El Al Boeing 747s, transported 14,325 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 36 hours.

The operation set a world record for single-flight passenger load on May 24, 1991, when an El Al 747 carried 1,122 passengers to Israel (1,087 passengers were registered, but dozens of children hid in their mothers’ robes). Planners expected to fill the aircraft with 760 passengers. Because the passengers were so light, many more were squeezed in. Five babies were born aboard the planes.


The operation was overseen by the Prime Minister at the time, Yitzhak Shamir. It was kept secret by military censorship. Operation Solomon was sped up with tremendous help from the American Association for Ethiopian Jews (AAEJ). In 1989, the AAEJ accelerated the process of the Aliyah because Ethiopian-Israeli relations were in the right place. Susan Pollack, who was the director of the AAEJ in Addis Ababa, fought for Operation Solomon to happen sooner rather than later. Israel, who had a gradual plan for this operation, and the US were given a graphic report from Pollack that informed both countries of the terrible conditions that the Ethiopian Jews were living in.

The organization went right ahead and got transportation like buses and trucks to have the people of Gondar quickly come to Addis Ababa.To get the Jews in Addis Ababa, many of the Jews that came from Gondar had to venture hundreds of miles by car, horses, and by foot. Some had things taken by thieves on the way, and some were even killed. By December 1989, around 2,000 Ethiopian Jews made their way by foot from their village in the Gondar highlands to the capital and many more came to join them by 1991.

In order to accommodate as many people as possible, airplanes were stripped of their seats, and up to 1,122 passengers were boarded on a single plane. May 24, 1991, also happened to be a Friday which falls on Shabbat for Jews. On Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, transportation is not used. This made it easier to complete the operation. The Jewish Religious Law mentions that one can break the Sabbath traditions if it is for saving lives.

Many of the immigrants came with nothing except their clothes and cooking instruments, and were met by ambulances, with 140 frail passengers receiving medical care on the tarmac. Several pregnant women gave birth on the plane, and they and their babies were rushed to the hospital. Before Operation Solomon took place, many of the Jews there were at a high risk of infection from diseases, especially HIV. The Jews that were left behind had an even higher risk at the infection because the rate of it kept increasing. After a few months, around 20,000 Jews had made their way over. While they were there, they were struggling for basic resources like food and warmth. They thought they would see their families right away.

Between 1990 and 1999, over 39,000 Ethiopian Jews entered Israel.










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