May 21, 2019

She Joined the Tribe and Thrived

On a visit to Israel in the late 1990s, Karin Kloosterman saw a woman in Jaffa’s flea market buying a lamp and was inexplicably overcome with jealousy. She, too, wanted to call Israel home. It was a peculiar prospect, considering Kloosterman was born into a Christian family of Dutch and Scottish descent in Newmarket, a small town in Canada. 

But Israel’s “wildness and elegance,” its “humanness and immediate intimacy” drew her in and within weeks she had fallen hard and fast in love with the country and one of its denizens. However, both relationships were short-lived; and with a heavy heart, Kloosterman traveled to Switzerland to continue her postgraduate studies in zoology. One night she got high, and as she walked home with donkeys braying and colts cantering around, she thought, “What am I doing here?” 

“I felt stuck,” she said. “How could I unstick this stuck?” 

It was then that she knew she had to ditch her studies and move to Israel. 

Kloosterman’s mind and soul bloomed in the Jewish state. She went on to become a ceramics teacher, forge a career as a journalist, establish a groundbreaking website on environmental issues in the Middle East, meet her best-friend-cum-husband with whom she raised two children, and established a revolutionary internet-based agricultural startup. 

However, it was a piece of advice from a rabbi in Toronto that helped her navigate her path. Kloosterman was trying — and failing — to find her way out of a red-tape minefield in order to stay in Israel as a non-Jew when the rabbi told her: “Think spiritually. If you do so, everything will change.”

“And I thought, ‘Oh yeah, that’s it,’ ” she recalled. “Because up until then I’d seen everything as procedural.”

Two days later, she signed up for a conversion course at a religious kibbutz; and 10 months later she became a Jew. 

Kloosterman, 44,  credits her husband, Yisrael Borochov — then her best friend — with teaching her Judaism. The pair would stay up late into the night and discuss Jewish ethics, mitzvot, philosophy and Talmud.  

“He is probably my greatest rabbi,” she said.  

At the time, Israel was undergoing a solar energy revolution. 

“All the [expletive] who were running hedge funds had now decided to go into clean tech,” she said. 

Kloosterman decided to tap into the boom and founded Green Prophet, the region’s first website dedicated to news about sustainability. She soon found herself in the “very weird position where I was the biggest friend to the enemy,” with whistleblowers from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon disclosing to her their countries’ heinous environmental transgressions. 

Kloosterman is unforgiving when she discusses the punishments some of those informants faced for revealing things such as nuclear contamination and industrial pollution.

“They will make you disappear — that’s how the Arab world operates,” she said. “There is a minority of bullies who make life inconceivably horrible for people who want to make the world better.”

Israel’s “wildness and elegance,” its “humanness and immediate intimacy” drew her in and within weeks she had fallen hard and fast in love.

Her online journal cemented Kloosterman as an environmental activist and led her to create Flux, an internet company that aims to democratize farming by decentralizing and democratizing data on the blockchain.  

The company’s flagship product is Eddy, a robot — or “growbot” — that enables full-service hydroponic farming. It can make experts out of novices and shares its wealth of experience and know-how to smallholding farmers in India, Africa and China — essentially creating an Israeli agricultural extension service, literally in the palm of one’s hand, using a smartphone. 

Kloosterman is hyperbolic yet wistful about what’s next.

“I wish I knew,” she said. “Outrageous success? Farming on Mars? A novel about time travel while looking for God?”