Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Pilot flies on

Robert F. Maguire Jr., the chief pilot of an airlift operation that brought well over 40,000 Jews from Yemen to Israel in the early years of the state, died earlier this month at the age of 94. Maguire was a chief pilot for Operation Magic Carpet between late 1948 and early 1950. He died on June 10 at his home in Northridge, Cal., of natural causes.

Pogroms against the Jews of Yemen followed soon after the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in November 1947. In the worst incident, Muslim rioters, joined by the local police force, engaged in a bloody pogrom in Aden that killed 82 Jews and destroyed hundreds of Jewish homes. The Imam of Yemen agreed to let most of Yemen's Jews leave, though the operation was kept secret and was released to the media only several months after its completion. The Jews walked on foot, sometimes for months, in extremely dangerous and risky journeys to reach the capital Aden, from where they were flown to Israel. In an arduous and dangerous operation, nearly the entire Jewish population of Yemen was evacuated over the course of more than two years, on some 380 flights.

The flight from Yemen to Israel, a journey of more than 1,400 miles, was almost entirely over hostile Arab territory. The planes were routinely fired on by Arab forces, fuel was scarce, and pilots were warned that if they were forced to land in enemy territory, they risked being executed.

Maguire became a pilot for Alaska Airlines after World War II. With the creation of the State of Israel in May 1948, the The New York Times reports, the airline won a contract to fly Jewish refugees there from around the globe. Maguire flew thousands of Jews out of Shanghai before being sent to the Middle East to help start Operation Magic Carpet in conjunction with the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee. When Alaska Airlines had to withdraw a few months into the operation, Mr. Maguire started his own company, Near East Air Transport, and hired planes and pilots to continue the job. Maguire once had to drop down to several hundred feet above the ground, squirming through hills and in between passes, to evade Arab gunfire. In another incident, he ran out of fuel and was forced to land in Egypt.

When airport officials rushed up to the plane, the quick-thinking pilot ordered them to send ambulances immediately, explaining, "I have smallpox on board." The Egyptians immediately obtained fuel for him, and he proceeded on to Tel Aviv. David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, was reported to have called Maguire "the Irish Moses." The Yemenite Jews had long lived in isolation from the rest of the Jewish world, and Maquire and the other planes presented the fulfillment of their hope and faith to return to Israel "on eagles' wings." The Simon Wiesenthal Center awarded him a medal of valor last year. As many as 28 pilots at a time were involved in Operation Magic Carpet, which involved carrying the refugees to Tel Aviv, flying back to Cyprus for the night - it was unsafe to leave the planes vulnerable to Arab bombers over night - and returning to their start-off point in eastern Africa at dawn before starting over again. The total round trip was about 20 hours.

The work cost Maguire his career, as he contracted a parasite in the region that affected his heart, causing him to lose his commercial pilot's license in the early 1950's. He is survived by three children, eight grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.


Anonymous said...

who's the guy with long peyos and no shirt?!

btw, thanks for getting somewhat off the Satmar/Malochim topic, although I have a feeling Satmar/Lubavitch will get into this one as well.

Anonymous said...

I do believe that Chabad was if not the only then one of the only Mosdoa to accept Teimener Yidden with no strings attached. There are many Yiddish-speaking Teimener in the Chabad ranks, Satmar not withstanding

Anonymous said...

Not only Chabad - the Zionists took a bunch of em as well... >:o

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Wow, what a unique fellow!
Certainly chassidei umos haolam.
I wonder what brought him to devote himself to this cause to such an extant...

Anonymous said...

I guess the same thing that led other people to save Jews during the Holocaust or to send arms to Israel during the war in '48.

Anonymous said...

This from last year:
More than 1,500 people gathered June 15, 2004 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance 2004 National Tribute Dinner honoring Medal of Valor recipient Robert F. Maguire Jr.

Honored for his role in Operations Magic Carpet and Ali Baba, which helped send the scattered Jewish communities from the Middle East and Asia to the newly formed Israel, Maguire, an Irish Catholic, saved the lives of countless Yemeni Jews.

"If it wasn’t for the efforts of Robert Maguire Jr., they would never have made it out of Yemen," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, who presented the medal, after revealing the presence of a Yemeni Jew born on one of the Operation Magic flights.

"I’m deeply grateful for your consideration," an overcome Maguire replied, apologizing for his inability to say more.

Anonymous said...

L.A. Times story:

"Robert Maguire Jr had told the LA Times he was motivated more by the adventure than the money. But there was more to his commitment to the airlift than that for Mr. Maguire, whose father was a judge in the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II.

Mr. Maguire never forgot the Yemenites' singing and blessing as they flew into Israel, nor the grateful expressions on their faces.

"It was so touching you almost don't want to remember," he recalled. When "you've been privileged to see something that people don't see very often. ... I was lucky, I was blessed that God had given me the opportunity to be there."

Not many of Mr. Maguire's Jewish passengers were aware that their pilot was an American of Irish and British descent who had been raised an Episcopalian.

Over the years, Mr. Maguire never sought acknowledgment for his role in the operation, modestly saying that he was "just doing my job."

In 2004, however, Mr. Maguire was awarded a medal of valor from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles for what Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center's founder and dean, called his "heroic efforts that helped rescue tens of thousands of Jews."

Hier had been aware of Operation Magic Carpet but always assumed all the pilots were Israelis.

After hearing of Mr. Maguire's role from a friend of the former pilot's son last year, Hier began research and discovered, among other things, a letter from the Israeli Parliament to Mr. Maguire three decades ago thanking him for his participation in the airlift.

Anonymous said...

Take it easy on the google searches.

Anonymous said...

Are those plain raw wooden benches that they're sitting on?
And there sure weren't many stewardess's pushing carts through those aisles.

Hirshel Tzig - הירשל ציג said...


typical of you to notice that.

I guess in Alaska that's what they offer.

Anonymous said...

I find it troubling that Chabad and the MO pro-Israel supporters seem to overlook the really horrible actions of the Zionists (Ben-Gourion...) especially towards the Yemenites.
The book Perfidy was a real eye-opener for a guy who grew up in CH, and never heard too much about the actions of those who got Medinas Yisroel on the map.

Anonymous said...

Here we go again... where's malach?

Hirshel Tzig - הירשל ציג said...

I guess growing up in CH they never taught you the Rebbe's Sichos of that period. Just bevcause you're "pro-Israel" doesn't mean you can go along with Israeli policies, especially in those times.

Anonymous said...

A beautiful shtikel Rav Kook related to this topic and Parshas Hashavua:

One of the greatest tragedies in our history of occurred when the meraglim Moshe sent returned with a frightening report about the land of Israel. Their dire warnings of a "land that consumes its inhabitants" convinced the people that they would be better off returning to Egypt.

Unlike all the other occasions, this time Moshe was unable to annul the decree. The entire generation died in the desert, never making it to the promised land. The best Moshe was able to do was to delay the punishment for 40 years.

In a 1908 letter, Rav Kook wrote that we still suffer for this catastrophic error. The root cause for all exiles and humiliations of the Jewish people, throughout their long history, is due to our failure to correct the sin of the spies.

*How can we rectify the sin of the spies?*

To truly repair this national failure, we need "teshuvat hamishkal" - a penance commensurate to the sin, thus 'balancing the scales'. If the spies defamed the land of Israel - "And they despised the desirable land" [Psalms 106:24] - then we must demonstrate our
great love for the land.

"(We must) declare to the entire world its magnificence and beauty, its holiness and grandeur. If only we could express, with what may appear to us to be great exaggerations, even a ten-thousandth of the desirability of the beloved land, and the splendorous light of
its Torah, and the superior light of its wisdom and prophecy!"

"The quality of delightful holiness that Torah scholars seeking the Divine may find in the land of Israel does not exist at all outside the land. I myself can attest to this unique quality, in a measure appropriate to my small worth." [Letters, vol. I, pp. 112-113]

Anonymous said...

Maybe Hirshel can post a Rav Kook thread?

Hirshel Tzig - הירשל ציג said...

כפרה עליך

Anonymous said...

Rabbi HT (Deer-Goat?)
Here are some annecdotes for you to start a R' Kook thread:

*God Willing*

During his 1924 fund-raising mission to America, Rav Kook tried to
convince a wealthy Jew that he should immigrate to Eretz Yisrael.
The man gave various reasons why he could not yet leave America,
but concluded, 'God willing, I too will soon make Aliya to Israel.'

Rav Kook replied to the man, "God is certainly willing. After all,
settling Eretz Yisrael is one of His commandments. But you also
must be willing ..."

*The Leniency*

Once, in America, a number of shopkeepers asked Rav Kook if there
exists some leniency permitting one to work on the second day of
Yom Tov.

"Yes," he replied, "there is a leniency that is accepted by all
halachic authorities."

The shopkeepers were thrilled. They eagerly asked for details about
this leniency.

"Come to Eretz Yisrael," Rav Kook smiled. "Then you will always be
permitted to work during the second day of Yom Tov".

*Without Calculations*

Once a Jewish tourist visited Rav Kook, seeking advice as to the
possibility of living in Eretz Yisrael. During the discussion, the
visitor calculated the pros and cons of moving to Israel, and in
the end decided that it was not worthwhile for him.

Rav Kook told the man:

"Before the Israelites entered the land in the time of Moses, they
first needed to kill Sichon, king of Heshbon. This teaches us that
one should come to the land of Israel without making calculations
("bli heshbon").

*Kissing the Rocks of Acre*

The Talmud states that Rabbi Abba would demonstrate his great love
for the land of Israel by kissing the rocks of Acre. [Ketubot 112a]
What was so special about these rocks that Rabbi Abba would kiss

Rav Kook explained that if Rabbi Abba had kissed the **soil** of
Eretz Yisrael, we would assume that his love for the land was due
to the special mitzvot that are fulfilled with its fruit (tithing,
etc.). Only the soil, which produces fruit, reflects the importance
and holiness of the land.

But Rabbi Abba's love for the land was not dependent on any
external factors. [see Avot 5:16; Orot p. 9] Rabbi Abba cherished
the intrinsic holiness of Eretz Yisrael. He recognized that the
special qualities of the land – such as its receptivity to prophecy
and enlightenment - go far beyond the holiness of those mitzvot
connected to agriculture. Therefore, he made a point of kissing the
barren rocks and stones.

[adapted from Malachim Kivnei Adam pp. 221,222,237]

Anonymous said...

All hail the cut & pasters.
Those who've never had an origional thought are relegated to the good old C&P job.

Anonymous said...

Yehe Zichro Boruch. Thank you, tzig.

yy, can't be. We are racist! Just ask Scott Rosenberg.

The failure of the Israeli government to respect Yahadus doesn not reflect on Macguire.

Hirshel Tzig - הירשל ציג said...


not everybody is capable of an original thought, just ask TA.

Anonymous said...

What, still no Rav Kook thread?!
Cum'mon H!

Hirshel Tzig - הירשל ציג said...

there's plenty of people not yet mentioned. Patience IS a virtue.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of Rav Kook...

Hirshel Tzig - הירשל ציג said...

Anon, RK is a subject?

which aspect is discussed in Litvish?

Anonymous said...

See second post there.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I don't think Rav Kook was a bug fan of Lubavitch.
But is not honest for today's gedolim to criticize him, he was a world renowned and recognized gadol (even if he was wrong about the Zionist question).

Anonymous said...

I meant "big fan"