Though violence continues to rage in the Middle East, Santa Ana resident Hilary Gross-Richmond has not changed her mind. She still plans on moving to Israel this week.
So are the roughly 230 U.S. Jews who will share her chartered flight scheduled to leave John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Wednesday.
With the help of Nafesh B'Nafesh, an organization dedicated to helping Jewish diaspora move to Israel, they will land at Ben-Gurion airport near Tel Aviv on Thursday morning and begin their new lives in towns and cities across the country.
Gross-Richmond, a 24-year-old high school teacher in Irvine, will head to Jerusalem for her aliyah, or immigration to Israel. She joins her older brother Jordan, who has been attending a yeshiva, or Jewish religious school, for almost a year.
"Now that everything's going on between Israel and Lebanon, my parents are freaking out," she said. "I'm going to be in Jerusalem.... I'm not going to Haifa, where [things are] being blown up."
Very few have plans to move to northern Israel, a target zone for a stream of rockets launched by the Islamist group Hezbollah in Lebanon.
"A handful of people are intending to move to the north. I don't know whether they'll go immediately," said Charley Levine, a spokesman for Nafesh B'Nafesh. "We'll probably help them find some temporary lodging."
Most of the Americans, like others before them, will head to one of five cities: Bet Shemesh, Modi'in, Ranana, Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Many find those areas more welcoming because of residents' special efforts to embrace newcomers, Levine said.
Alex Zakowski, who grew up in Yorba Linda and lives in New York, also expressed confidence in his decision to move despite the bloody struggle in Israel and Lebanon. He plans to board the plane Wednesday with his wife and infant son.
"We know this is part of life in Israel," he said. "Bombings, suicide bombings -- to be a realist you have to know these things would happen again. I didn't know this would happen this week, but we can't let terrorism win."
Rabbi David Eliezri of North Orange County Chabad Center watched Zakowski grow up and encouraged the 28-year-old accountant to follow his dream of moving to Israel.
"I know the realities," Eliezri said. "I've seen a suicide bombing in Israel. I've been shot at by terrorists. We realize that there are adversities. But I admire the people of conviction who stand up to those adversities."
Both Gross-Richmond and Zakowski said they were moving to Israel to be part of a larger Jewish community. Neither had many Jewish friends growing up in Orange County, and they felt a kinship with the Israelis they met on previous trips, which clinched their decision.
"This is where I belong," Zakowski said. "Every time we go there, we feel that we belong. Even with people on the street, I truly believe they're my brothers and sisters."
Levine said three families had changed their minds about leaving Wednesday, which isn't much different from any other such flight.
Gross-Richmond and Zakowski have both faced resistance to their moves. Gross-Richmond said her rabbi vociferously opposed her decision. And both said their parents felt uncomfortable, to say the least, about saying goodbye.
Gross-Richmond's mother worries that violence will spread to other parts of Israel, perhaps even Jerusalem.
"I can't think about that because otherwise my life would be vastly diminished, and I can't let myself get to that place," Susan Gross said.
But mostly the parents simply wish their children would stay closer to home. "I love her and I'm going to miss her dearly," Gross said. "Eight thousand miles is a very long way."
Jack Zakowski, Aaron's father, agreed. "We're very supportive of their beliefs and what they're trying to do," he said. "Our biggest problem with their moving there is that it's an awfully long commute to visit our grandson."