Through the Curators Lens: Leslie Fried Identifies JDC Materials for Opening Exhibit at the Alaska Jewish Museum

When Leslie Fried began her research on Operation Magic Carpet, the airlift of some 48,000 Yemenite Jews from Aden to Israel from December 1948 to September 1950, material from the JDC Archives was instrumental in shaping her research. From the start she knew that Alaska Airlines participated in the airlift. She began with photographs from the airlines, a news clip of an interview with pilot Capt. Warren Metzger, and an audiotape of James R. Wooten, president of the airline company in 1948.

Following the 1947 UN Partition Plan to establish independent Arab and Jewish states in Palestine, the Yemenite Jewish community was attacked by their Muslim neighbors, with at least 82 people killed and many stores and businesses destroyed. The opening exhibit of the Alaska Jewish Museum was initially planned to focus on the pilots heroic efforts under extreme conditions to rescue the community from oppression and lead them toward redemption.

A JDC employee holds a smiling thee-year old girl who is being evacuated from Yemen to Israel. Aden, Yemen 1948.

Credit: Al Taylor

She began to see similarities between the feisty Alaskan bush pilots and the Machal pilots her father served as one who fought on behalf of the fledgling Jewish state in the War of Independence in 1948. JDC played a central role in organizing and funding Operation Magic Carpet, and the JDC Archives has maintained documentation of the correspondence between all the groups and individuals involved. One exciting discovery Fried made was finding a request for additional pilots directed to Al Schwimmer, one of the founders of the Israel Air Force and Leslies fathers employer. Additional clues from her family indicated that her father, Captain Norman Moonitz, flew some of the Magic Carpet flights.

The exhibit On the Wings of Eagles: Alaskas Contribution to Operation Magic Carpet opened in July 2013 in Anchorage, Alaska. The exhibit includes many items from the JDC Archives including 28 photographs, numerous documents and pamphlets, written testimonies from two of the pilots, Buddy Epstein and Edward Trueblood Martin, and the historic 1949 James Wooten sound recording. As Leslie comments, The JDC archival material helped me achieve the exhibits purpose to tell the story of how various political and social entities came together to facilitate the historic and miraculous airlift of 48,000 Yemenite Jewish refugees from Aden to Israel from December 1948 to September 1950.