Evolving Forms of Connection: Travel has always been a cure for the soul, it introduces us to new places, new cultures, and new experiences enriching our lives and making us more human. As I have watched the pandemic evolve, I have seen people embrace this from inside their own homes. In April, we had the opportunity to do a Passover Seder from our own living rooms. We literally maxed out the zoom account as people came together to celebrate. It was connection with one another.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anat Ben Yosef.
During Ben Yosef’s 6 years as the Western Region’s Consul and Director for the Israel Ministry of Tourism, she has been an essential factor in the unprecedented growth in tourism from North America. Under her leadership, total numbers to Israel reached a record 4.6 million in 2019 with a fourth of that coming from the United States alone. From the Los Angeles office, Ben Yosef constantly develops and deepens relationships with contacts and entities in the travel trade, religious organizations, entertainment, the press, and more with Ben Yosef and her team hosting, sponsoring, and executing a wide variety of marketing, PR, and outreach projects.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
My bachelor’s degree is in political science and communications; working in the civil service is probably “the dream” for every political science graduate. I was living in Germany with my then fiancée (now my husband), when I stumbled upon an ad for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism’s cadets course interviews. This simple “wanted” ad led me down the path to becoming an Israeli diplomat to the US at just 30 years old. I guess the message here is to always give things a shot, even if you’re 3000 miles away and find yourself conducting an interview over Skype (yes, the great-grandparent of Zoom, kids) literally using a headphone as a microphone (#lifehacks of 2009).
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
As a part of my job, I have spoken about Israel, travel, marketing, and more on many stages in front of hundreds of people, but my best experience was also my last public engagement before the Covid shutdown. It was during a convention in Las Vegas, where I suddenly found myself on a stage in front of 3,000 people discussing the destination I promote, my homeland of Israel. The rush and excitement of getting the full attention and engagement of thousands of people (I shouted “SHALOM!” and they all responded back… imagine that?!) was something I’ll remember forever, especially since it was — in retrospect — probably the last massive international convention I will attend in 2020, and sadly probably for the next few years.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As an international destination that is not yet open to receiving any American travelers, we have shifted our gears towards keeping our brand top of people’s minds for future trips as well as cultivating and re-enforcing our relationships with stakeholders in the travel trade and media. We have hosted webinars and spoken in Zoom-based panels, all while researching and instating numerous procedures in order to be as ready as possible for the magical “day after.” Our business is the travel business, which is the “making dreams come true” business. Our current job during this pandemic is to keep this dream alive, because it’s a beautiful, beautiful dream.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
As a foreign diplomat, I am here with my immediate family and that’s it. No parents, siblings, or other relatives to lend a helping hand. That means my husband and myself are the sole contributors to the upbringing of our 6-year-old and 2-year-old even under normal circumstances. Now during Covid, we must do this while juggling both of our full-time jobs remotely and teaching first grade studies as we distract a toddler with the equivalent of 10 million years in Netflix content before his second birthday. I don’t know how I could have done this without my beloved partner (and by partner I also mean whichever Instacart delivery person does my shopping this week).
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
The change in the process of getting ready for a work-related Zoom call pretty much explains how our challenges have evolved since March. Initially, I coordinated with my husband in advance to block out his calendar, changed into a nice outfit, did my hair and makeup, then locked the kids in the closet so I would have no interruptions. Today, I wipe whatever stain I have on my shirt off with some baby wipes and hope people think that the high-pitched screaming behind me is a fire truck. But seriously, this has changed us as a family and me as a mother. The amount of time and energy I am required to dedicate to making sure my kids are well fed, educated, and content is beyond any normal parenting pre-coronavirus standards and has led to a necessary prioritization of what matters at my job, like the quality of the meeting, and what doesn’t, like my external appearance.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
First of all, I focus on remembering to relax. As they say, “This, too, shall pass,” and our kids and family will still be here the day after. We cannot expect Covid life to work under the same standards we had before. It’s okay to have cereal for dinner (and breakfast, and lunch), it’s okay to binge Frozen 1 and 2 in one day, it’s okay to skip a school chore. They will survive, we will survive.
We just need to focus on the important stuff — love, caring for one another, washing our hands, and wearing a mask.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
As I work internationally, my schedule fluctuates throughout the day and I can sometimes have a 6am meeting or a midnight Zoom. The expectation to continue being at full capacity and max productivity is challenging. I do believe that being mothers makes us more result-oriented and stronger at time management skills. I try to apply this to my work life too, while loading yet another washer and Lysol-wiping my last Amazon delivery.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Acceptance and acknowledgment are the best place the start. Understanding that you cannot be in 3 places at once means something’s got to give. The mere acknowledgment that this is just a fact and that it’s the new-normal makes it easier to cope. I try to compliment this by being both softer on myself and others while also being focused on quality not quantity of results.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
With your spouse, with your kids, with your employer, with your employees: once you communicate your situation, your needs and musts, it’s easier to plan around those anchors.
Be prepared to be disappointed. It’s fine, it sucks for everyone, just keep your head high and try again.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
Honestly, lots of wine. Just having something that is “mine” gives me something to look forward to at the end of these incredibly long days. I also try to go out on walks after the kids go to bed and listen to relevant and inspiring podcasts while I sweat miserably under my face mask.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Eilat, the Negev, and Haifa.
But seriously, though, I feel very fortunate, particularly during these uncertain times, to be working in an industry that is all about helping people have one-of-a-kind experiences and fulfill lifelong dreams. Even now with the borders to most countries closed to Americans, the entire industry is working to bring destinations into everyone’s homes through cooking classes, virtual tours, and specialist lectures. Standards and customs are changing to rise to this occasion so everyone knows that when they feel safe to travel again, our industry will be ready.
So, my light at the end of the tunnel? It has to be all the amazing things I’ve seen being done in my home country to keep people #InspiredbyIsrael. I can think of way more than 5, but these are the ones that give me the most hope:
- Evolving Forms of Connection: Travel has always been a cure for the soul, it introduces us to new places, new cultures, and new experiences enriching our lives and making us more human. As I have watched the pandemic evolve, I have seen people embrace this from inside their own homes. In April, we had the opportunity to do a Passover Seder from our own living rooms. We literally maxed out the zoom account as people came together to celebrate. It was connection with one another.
- Constant Innovation: Israel has always been a place of inspiration, but now we are seeing it even more. We are hosting Zoom webinars with experts from the travel industry so people can still travel. We have come up with ways for people to visit museums, archeological sites, and different places around the world while staying home and staying safe. We teach ourselves new technologies so that we can continue to be social while we are apart. As we have all been using the words “social distance” we are in fact learning to be more social.
- Continued Joint Exploration: We are sharing experiences with each other. We hosted over 200 people from the industry for a virtual wine tasting, quite literally exploring Israel from north to south while sampling wine with our friends. People are engaging, they are looking for ways to continue to open themselves to the world from their small corner of it.
- Strengthening of Relationships: I am inspired by my friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and industry professionals who are looking for meaning again. Who are looking for opportunities for connections and they are finding it over a zoom yoga workout on the beach of Tel Aviv, an IG live event to make the best coffee, and more importantly how we are treating and caring for one another during this difficult time. We are inspired as we see a shift in what is important and what is essential. Calling and checking on one another, sending a text, offering a helping hand.
- Food!: With every frozen pizza or sucky take-out I partake in during these times, I get the chance to fantasize about sitting out on the patio of one of the amazing restaurants on Rothchild Boulevard in Tel Aviv and sipping a glass (or two) of the local wine while enjoying the Mediterranean breeze. My dreams are filled with the tantalizing images, smells, and tastes of authentic Israeli food — from high-end cuisine to the street food — flavors that you feel with every part of your body.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Honestly, it is just offering connection. As I said earlier, I am learning to be softer on myself, but also softer on others. Sometimes it is just a WhatsApp message, a phone call, a dinner date over zoom, but it is continuing to be social as we social distance. Helping family and loved ones know we are in this together, that while we may be apart, we are really still together.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My late father, who I lost less than a year ago, used to say — “It’s better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick”. Of course, this was said sarcastically. The best lesson is just understanding how fragile things are and really making every day count — because who knows what tomorrow will bring.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!