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Operation Solomon: Four Voices

Aharon Granevich-Granot

Not too many people are familiar with the story behind an old jumbo jet housed in the Air Force Museum located at Chatzerim. But just recently, Mishpacha brought together four people for whom the plane aroused strong memories — Rabbi Mazor Buhaina,Binyamin Noga, Shlomi Assras, and Lt. Col. Micky Katz. What connected them to each other and the plane was an event that took place in May 1991, the rescue of 14,000 Ethiopian Jews that became known as Operation Solomon.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

airplaneFour people walk towards the jumbo jet now housed at theIsraeliAirForceMuseumin Chatzerim. Although three of them were born inEthiopiaand one is a native Israeli, they share a historical bond, both with each other and the jet sitting in the hangar. They were all participants in a rescue mission called Operation Solomon, a modern-day footnote to Avraham Avinu’s historic trek from the place of his birth to the land of his destiny.


Operation Solomon was a sequel to the dramatic Operation Moses of 1984, which transported members ofEthiopia’s BetaIsraeltribe toIsraelviaSudan. Due to a media leak, the operation was not fully successful, and tens of thousands of Jews were left behind. In 1991, those Jews faced persecution and danger when rebel forces threatened the government, and an international effort was launched to rescue them. That effort resulted in Operation Solomon in May of 1991 and the transport of thousands of Ethiopian Jews toIsrael.


Rabbi Mazor Buhaina, who has served as a Knesset Member for Shas and now lives in Beer Sheva, was an avreich learning in Yeshivas Porat Yosef back in May 1991, having come toIsrael at an earlier time. But as an Ethiopian-born Jew who’d already acclimated toIsrael, he played a role in Operation Solomon by helping some of the new arrivals find both a physical and a spiritual home. 


Reb Binyamin Noga of Ashkelon and Reb Shlomo Assras of Kiryat Malachi were only children when they boarded an airplane for the first time. In Israel, they found their way to the chareidi community and became kollel avreichim who are now studying to be rabbis.


Lt. Col. Micky Katz, a veteran Israeli Air Force pilot who was born and raised inIsrael, is currently a senior captain with El Al. In 1991 he was in charge of El Al’s operations department. He was also a key player in the rescue mission, and the one who “turned out the lights,” so to speak.


For each of them, the sight of that 20-year-old jet brings back memories. After crawling into the plane’s belly and taking a look around at the cavernous space, the memories get even stronger. They each have a story to tell, a perspective that sheds new light on a mission that was considered daring even for the Israeli Air Force, which has had no shortage of “mission impossibles” during its history.


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