The Daily Compass

MONDAY, MAY 16, 1949

The Flying Carpet


In the south of the great Arabian desert there is a mountainous country, the Kingdom of Yemen. This archaic Arab kingdom is separated from most of the world by ocean and from other Arab countries by desert; if not for neighboring Aden, the British Crown Colony, Yemen would be like an island detached from the whole world. You do not know what is going on there—Yemen does not have a single newspaper. Yet this kingdom was accepted for membership in the United Nations. Its representative there—a swarthy prince enveloped in heavy robes and carrying in his belt a dagger the size of a saber—looked about him in New York and in Paris and could not apprehend what he saw. Those who observed him had the impression that a man out of a wilderness had been set down in civilized surroundings and his brain was working hard to guess what was the correct thing to do.

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In the Kingdom of Yemen there is an ancient Jewish population. It is not known since when they have been living there, but it is admitted that they came there before the destruction of the Jewish State by the Romans and probably even six and a half centuries earlier at the time when the First Temple (the Temple of Solomon) was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. For many centuries they had little or no contact with other Jewish communities in the world.

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During the Renaissance, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, a prince of the Jewish kingdom in the south of Arabia, came to Europe to make an alliance against the invading Turks. He was David Reubeni, an adventurous messiah, who ended his days in a Spanish prison under the hand of the Inquisition. He spoke Hebrew.

Even today, Yemenite Jews speak Hebrew as well as Arabic. It was not necessary to teach those of them who migrated to Palestine the language of the Prophets—the language of the Jewish population of Palestine—they knew it after two and a half thousand years of living in a secluded corner of the world. As laborers they are industrious and peaceful, and they are happy in their old-new land.

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The King of Yemen does not allow his Jewish subjects to leave the country. Nor did his father allow it long before the war of partition started. There was a time, long ago, when Jews were permitted to emigrate on condition they would surrender all their possessions; but they were forbidden to do so even under this condition. Today Jews who try to leave Yemen—where they have no civil rights and are kept in the status of slaves of the Crown—if caught, are condemned to death. Yet the idea that there is a “Jewish kingdom” in Palestine has too great a magnetic power to allow them to remain in Yemen. Even twenty or thirty years ago, when there was no State of Israel, when Jews in Morocco, in Algiers and in Tunis did not think of migrating to Palestine, the Yemenite Jews went there. Now when migration goes on from China to Morocco, Yemenite Jews are certainly not held back.

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If a Jew in Yemen read the Thousand and One Nights and dreamed of traveling on a carpet, where would he want to fly? To Israel, of course. But carpets do not fly in the sky. The poor Jew leaving Yemen crosses the frontier into Aden. If he is caught, he faces death. If he arrives at Aden, then—then he will find a magic carpet.

A Jew in Yemen is not permitted to ride on a donkey because he may meet an Arab afoot. But here a Magic Carpet—an airplane—awaits him. Yes, Magic Carpet is the name of the air lift by the boys of Israel, boys who were born in Israel, or who came there from Brooklyn, from Chicago, from London, from Vienna.

Over the great desert of Arabia, the great and terrible desert that takes a camel months to cross, the airplane zooms from morning till night or from night till morning. Yemenite Jews and their children look over the desert below, at the stars above, and wonder. But no, they do not wonder. They know: the messianic time is here.

Is it not said in the Prophets that when the Jews shall return to Palestine, they will travel al canfei nesharim—on wings of eagles?

The wings are of steel—of steel was also the 2,500 years’ determination of these Jews to return to their Promised Land.