For some it's about family. For others, it's about pursuing a Zionist dream. For one mother, it's about finding a better place to raise her kids.
If there's one thing that unites the half dozen or so families from Houston planning a move to Israel this spring and summer, it's the feeling that there's something about their decision to move from the comforts of Houston to a conflict-riven strip of land in the Middle East that can't quite be explained.
"You feel like you belong in the place," said Ysabel Nagar, a nail stylist in Houston who moved with her husband and three daughters just in time to spend Passover - which began last week and ends at sundown today - in Israel. Nagar is a native Venezuelan who came to the United States 12 years ago.
"The times that I've been in Israel I was happier than I've been here in 12 years," Nagar said. "When we went to Israel, we felt it was good for the whole family."
The vast majority of Israeli residents are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who moved there as a result of insecurity at home, usually physical, religious, political or economic. In the decades before Israel was founded in 1948, immigrants from Europe fled the Nazis and the Communists. In the 1950s, Jews from around the Middle East poured into the new Jewish state as Arab countries expelled their Jewish populations. And in the 1990s, more than 1 million Jews immigrated to Israel from Russia and the former Soviet Union.
In recent years, however, immigration to Israel has fallen sharply as threats to Jews around the world have receded. Throughout the 1990s, about 75,000 people immigrated to Israel every year; in 2010, Israel saw just 19,261 immigrants. Of those, roughly 3,500 came from the United States.
The immigrants from America break the mold. They're not fleeing anti-Jewish persecution. On the contrary, Jewish life has flourished in America, and roughly 40 percent of the world's Jews live here.
Instead, those who leave America for Israel say they're looking for something else.
"Throughout the centuries, Jews have never been rooted in any one place for any lengthy period of time without assault," said Saul Uranovsky, who will move to Israel next month with his wife, Rebecca Najer, and baby daughter. "Not that we necessarily need to worry about that today, but Jews have a special responsibility to contribute to the world and civilization, and I think we can do that properly only in our own nation."
According to Israeli law, anyone with a Jewish grandparent has the automatic right to immigrate to Israel - referred to in Hebrew as "aliyah," a value-laden term that literally means "going up."
For Dana Aharonson, who is planning to "make aliyah" this summer, the main reason is her children.
"Kids are more free and happier in Israel," Aharonson said. "Here, I have to drive the kids everywhere. If there's a play date, you have to schedule it. In Israel, kids are more independent. I think they're going to be happier over there. We want them to be Israeli."
"I feel like, statistically, Israel is still a safe place," Najer said. "We hear about horrible things that happen, but they're not everyday occurrences."
The logistics of moving to Israel are not simple, but families moving get a lot of help. A nonprofit organization called Nefesh B'Nefesh, which is funded in part by American evangelical Christians, handles the paperwork, helps immigrants find employment and pays for some relocation costs, including airfare. Once in Israel, the Jewish Agency for Israel provides free Hebrew instruction and temporary housing for families who want to live in so-called absorption centers.
Yet even for those Houstonians who are fulfilling a lifelong dream by moving, it's not easy.
"I feel sad about who and what I'm leaving behind," Nagar said. "It's bittersweet. But it's a little more sweet than bitter."