Fall foliage has been hesitant to make its brilliant debut this warmer-than-usual season. But as the smooth gradients of red and yellow gradually begin to wash over my neighborhood’s lush elm and maple branches, the chilly air reminds me that it was worth the wait. After all, I haven’t seen the leaves change colors in 10 years.
For the past decade, autumn has largely slipped past my radar, with beach-friendly temperatures persisting far past the sound of the shofar — and lingering until a desperate nation of burnt yellow fields welcomes “wintry” rains in mid-November. Yet this year, I’ve suddenly traded 80 percent humidity for 80 percent aridity, pavement poop piles for compulsory compost collection and strangers-in-your-face for a daunting amount of personal space. My Sabra husband and I — with toddler and baby in tow — moved this summer from Rehovot, Israel, to Boulder, Colo., to pursue professional fellowships, and in doing so found ourselves in an alternate universe.
Under pitch-black skies on our first Boulder morning, I pushed a well-worn stroller over jagged sidewalk cracks and past dewy sunflowers, on a mission to lull a wakeful 10-month-old back to sleep. A reminder that cars, and not strollers, are the norm even in the most ecologically conscious corners of America; an LED street sign clocked my speed at an unimpressive 6 miles per hour. Somewhere around 5 a.m., the sun’s rays began to peak through the morning’s cloud cover, ushering in a breathtaking view of the Flatiron Mountains. My daughter happily snored through her first American sunrise.
Embracing the strange identity of an American-Israeli-American, I had boarded the first of two flights from Ben-Gurion Airport a mere 28 hours earlier. Nine years before, I had taken the opposite journey solo, making my way from JFK with just an elementary command of Hebrew and a plan to be a journalist in Israel — and if I was lucky, to find companionship in the process. In a stroke of luck that still bewilders me, I somehow managed to accomplish both. It was therefore with real reluctance that I packed our bags, sold our furniture and left our little two-bedroom apartment in the humid heart of Rehovot to head out West.
The organized chaos that defines Israel quickly gave way to Boulder’s immaculate sense of order, where residents do not dare tote a plastic bag or sip from a non-compostable straw. A paradise for urban nature lovers, Boulder’s wooded streets are, oddly enough, not natural at all; when gold seekers first arrived in the mid- to late-19th century, the region actually had few trees. But the city’s streets — and its playgrounds and meandering mountain paths — are free from the crinkly Bamba bags, crumpled toilet paper and crushed bottles that have become fixtures in Israel’s open spaces.
With an entire population always ready to brave the outdoors, Boulder’s penchant for sports utility vehicles with high ground clearance is rivaled only by its affinity for electric cars that generate zero-carbon emissions. The Boulder Jewish Community Center features a sustainable “Milk and Honey Farm,” while the Conservative synagogue prides itself for operating on wind power. In the city’s ubiquitously organic, fair trade sandwich shops, the compost bins almost always dwarf the garbage cans — the latter of which are often difficult to locate downtown or in a park. Even before we made our move across the world, our soon-to-be landlord alerted us to the fact that most residents opt for the 96-gallon compost cart but only the 32-gallon trash bin.
As temperature rise threatens to reach a point of no return and the U.S. continues to rebuff the global climate conversation, it’s refreshing to see individual citizens respecting the place they inhabit and voluntarily adopting eco-conscious behaviors. Even outside Colorado’s overwhelmingly liberal “Boulder Bubble,” they seem to be doing so regardless of political affiliation. This is notable in a region where a firearm shop’s radio ad lamenting the gun as an “endangered species” is far from unusual.
Israelis, too, face an uncertain political future, as they wait to learn whether a third election is on the horizon. In a country where nearly all apartment buildings use sun boilers and where residents turn off the tap while lathering their hair, the embrace of such attitudes outside the home should be second nature. Yet the majestic Sea of Galilee is awash in stray plastic bags and squashed beer cans during Passover vacation, and cigarette butts adorn the ancient crevices of Jerusalem’s Old City walls.
With one foot lingering in Israel and another exploring America’s expansive West, I’m eager to see what the New Year will bring, and to understand what small changes we can all make to sustain a cleaner future for the next generation. But for now, I’ll relish the memories of introducing my Israeli children to a uniquely Coloradan Rosh HaShanah — tasting honey-dipped figs grown in the JCC’s geodesic greenhouse, as crisp mountain air wafted through the adjacent solar-powered goat barn.
Sharon Udasin is a Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the Center for Environmental Journalism, University of Colorado Boulder. She covered environmental issues for the Jerusalem Post and was a Jewish Week staff writer from 2008-2010.