Dina Orenbach of the Israel Ministry of Tourism: “Include them in our home tasks ”

Include them in our home tasks — There are a lot of things that we need to do at home that take a lot of time. Recently I started showing my son what I do, and he immediately showed an interest in helping. Turned out, he really likes doing some of the chores with me! He brings […]

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Include them in our home tasks — There are a lot of things that we need to do at home that take a lot of time. Recently I started showing my son what I do, and he immediately showed an interest in helping. Turned out, he really likes doing some of the chores with me! He brings his little footstool to help me put clothes in the washer, and he enjoys soaping up the frying pans just to name a few tasks we share. Honestly, because he’s so little, it sometimes does make more of a mess than it would otherwise, but I love doing these activities with him. Working together allows me to get these things done while letting my son experience something new with me. I’m guessing that when he’s older it will be even better.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Dina Orenbach.

Dina Orenbach is the Consul and Director of the Western Region of the United States for the Israel Ministry of Tourism, which is based in Los Angeles. In 2020, despite the challenging world circumstances, she accepted the position of Consul-Director to the Western Region and moved her family across the globe to be on the ground in the effort to help tourism recover in the post-Covid world in this important market for Israel. Having immigrated to Israel as a child, Orenbach has always been passionate about sharing the wonders of her country with the world at large — particularly through tourism.

Israel: Land of Creation

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

I was born in Moscow in the late 1980s and within two years my family decided to immigrate to Israel. Back then my parents only spoke Russian, so they spent most of those first years learning Hebrew, whereas my brother and I were able to pick it up very quickly (the joy of learning a language as a kid). Being the child of immigrants, I naturally had a very multicultural upbringing; my parents spoke to us in Russian at home and continued their own cultural traditions, which sometimes led to funny interactions with my classmates. The example that stands out the most in my mind is that we always had a tree for New Year’s (Novi God in Russian), which many of my classmates mistook for a Christmas tree (an easy mistake to make).

I’m far from the only Israeli to grow up in that kind of multicultural home environment, though. Over the decades, Jewish people from different countries all over the world have immigrated to Israel, which has made my home country similar to America with its rich mix of cultures and, most importantly, cuisines. For instance, my best friend’s family was originally from Morocco, and I remember I always loved her mother’s amazing cooking. There is no shortage of spectacular authentic food in Israel both in restaurants and in people’s kitchens.

Now, since I moved to Israel at such a young age and I was going to a local public school, I was very Israeli culturally speaking and very proud of my home. This is why I always loved when we had friends or family come to visit from Russia, because it gave me the chance to show them Israel. These opportunities are undoubtedly the original inspiration that brought me to the job I have now.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

After finishing my BA in Management and Communication, all my closest friends started to work in marketing departments at various organizations. I felt that I needed to work with people in a more “down to earth” environment, so I joined a human resources company as a recruiter. I liked the work and atmosphere but kept feeling that it was not actually the path for me. I then set out to land a job in marketing, but it was very important to me that it have some sort of added value to society. It was during this time my husband told me he had seen an online ad from The Israel Ministry of Tourism; they were opening a cadets’ course that would train individuals to work in the marketing administration which promotes tourism to Israel from around the world. I applied and fortunately I got in! I had never considered the public sector before- but this opportunity felt too good to be true! I’d be working in marketing like I wanted, but my focus would be on selling the wonderful product of Israel. I always believed being a tourist in Israel to be a unique experience, and I find helping to bring the wonder of my country to the outside world to be beyond meaningful. Now, 5 years after I started at the Ministry, I find that all my hard work has led me to the role of Consul-Director of our West Coast office in Los Angeles.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?

Ever since we relocated, I’ve been waiting for the time to come when we would have some sort of routine, because apparently being at home most of the time does not organically create one as we’ve all come to learn. For now, I drop off the little one at day care, I go to my desk (in my house) and start by going over emails and writing down what I want to get done that day. I find the ‘working from home’ setup very strange, and I miss the routine of an office with its face-to-face contact with people. Even though the entire team is working remotely, I do strive to talk to them every day either by phone or on Zoom.

For the majority of my day, I focus on my work helping to promote travel to Israel. Currently, since unfortunately travel has not resumed yet, a lot of the work is talking to the local travel industry, tour operators, and agents just to stay in touch for “the day after”. I also update them on what the current situation in Israel is and inquire as to how we can best support their activities and stay top of mind for the time when tourism resumes.

In the afternoon, we pick up the kids from school and play with our 2-year-old and 8-month-old at home. We have our dinner after the little one goes to sleep with the older one being excited to sit at the table with Mom and Dad all on his own. After both kids are asleep and we feel like we managed to get through another day, we try to watch something interesting together and then we go to sleep. Of course, then we do everything all over again the next day.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

To put it plainly, our active presence in our children’s lives is the most basic need they possess, and the only way to reaffirm our commitment to this in their hearts and minds is through our interactions with them. Without it they fail to feel like they have support and guidance, and that they belong to a family unit that will always be a part of their story as their original set of cheerleaders. If we don’t spend enough time with them, they will be shaped much less by us than whatever environment they are in, which is not often for the better. If they don’t have a parent present in their day-to-day experiences, how can they learn to discern between right and wrong, to establish and respect boundaries, or how to structure their time to best achieve their goals? Moreover, they could grow up thinking that they don’t have anyone to turn to when in crisis and retreat into themselves rather than sharing the things that are important for parents and others to know in order to help them.

But I feel I must also comment on how in this, as is the case with so many aspects of life, balance is key. My kids are still very small; however, I still think that even at these young ages it’s good for them to not always be with us. They need to spend time with their peers and different adults in their daycare centers as well as have supervised time at home where they entertain themselves. Independence is priceless, and it’s a skill that needs to be nurtured in children by their parents. When I’m not directly involved, my children have a chance to experience the world on their own, to develop their own opinions and responses, and to determine for themselves the ideal way to deal with a situation according to their values. I think these skills are crucial to making sure children develop into responsible, capable, and principled citizens of this world.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?

Our children are the people who are closest to our hearts from the moment we bring them into our lives, and we love them deeply, more than anything in the world. Naturally, this means we want to support them and to raise them in the way we think is right. The only way to guarantee we can accomplish this, though, is by being there for them. By spending time together, my children get tangible examples of the ways I support them, and the confidence this creates in them will ensure they feel self-assured when they eventually face things on their own.

The developmental process for a child is involved, to say the least, and consists of multiple factors. They form their personalities through a mix of their home and exterior environments. Parents can’t always control what happens in the external world that greets their kids, so they must devote themselves to taking the time to teach their children their key values for this will be what they rely on to guide them through their most challenging moments.

Another reason that it’s so important to spend time with them is that at the end of the day- we had them! They are our chosen family and our future, we love them deeply, and I want to enjoy these wonderful people I helped create. It’s as important for them as it is for us to spend time together. Sharing life’s moments with my family gives me perspective when I get caught up with things at work. They help keep me grounded and serve as constant reminders of what is really important in life.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

Because of the pandemic, we always go home right after day care and play together as a family. For the older one (2 years), we try to have that time consist of lots of games — building blocks, puzzles, playdoh, reading, drawing, etc. We’ve found these kinds of interactive activities lead to the best experiences. Personally, I find when we draw together, I feel like I get to know him better, since I can get a glimpse into his thoughts through what he wants to draw or what he asks me to draw. But we also try to let him have his time alone with toys, where we’re there, but he is playing alone. I call this quality time with himself, which I also believe to be key to his development.

Another bonding activity for us is dinner; we make it a point to try to have all our evening meals together. For now, this happens usually after the little one (8 months) is asleep, but soon he’ll join us as well. Our goal with this is to have a sense of routine family time where we all talk together about whatever comes to mind. Right now, he is learning a lot of new words both in his mother tongue of Hebrew and in the main language of his current home, English, so we try to have him tell a little story or explain how his day went. In addition to linguistics, we also use it as a way to expose him to new food and teach him how to behave when eating different types of cuisine.

During the weekends, the thing I try to do most is to take them somewhere outdoors where they can enjoy nature in the open air- usually a playground or a park. Being outside is great for our whole family. Our toddler can run around to his heart’s content and we do our best try to keep up with him. It’s important to us that our children can experience time with us in a different setting than just the house, even though the pandemic limits the ways in which we can accomplish this.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.

  1. Include them in our home tasks — There are a lot of things that we need to do at home that take a lot of time. Recently I started showing my son what I do, and he immediately showed an interest in helping. Turned out, he really likes doing some of the chores with me! He brings his little footstool to help me put clothes in the washer, and he enjoys soaping up the frying pans just to name a few tasks we share. Honestly, because he’s so little, it sometimes does make more of a mess than it would otherwise, but I love doing these activities with him. Working together allows me to get these things done while letting my son experience something new with me. I’m guessing that when he’s older it will be even better.
  2. Have a clear-cut daily schedule — I know I’m working until 5pm, and I don’t want to go back to the laptop when we come home with the kids from school. Even if it’s not a 9–5 job, when you are not working, shift your attention to the relevant activity (be it family time or any other personal matters). I know it really depends on the organization you are working for, but it’s always best to check if you can have more flexible working hours and absolutely worth it to explain that allowing more flexibility in your schedule will help to improve your work.
  3. Be mindful — I think that sometimes we actually do have time to devote to our kids, but we’re so preoccupied with our various tasks we just interact with them on some type of auto pilot. Personally, I really struggle with this in the morning. When I first wake up, I’m very focused on getting them ready and strategizing all the tasks I need to do during the day. It’s more than possible for me to convert this time into something more quality than functional, but until I am more mindful about the motivations defining my behavior it will simply be a neglected opportunity.
  4. Advance prep– Prepare everything you can in advance, preferably in the evening — food for the kids, clothes, make more food ahead of time and freeze it. Those minutes really add up quickly.
  5. Try not to be too hard on your self — Remember there is always a tradeoff, and that’s ok! I don’t believe that the balance can be perfect and surely not so 100% of the time. WLB (“Work-Life Balance”) has become a very widespread term people use and I think just the constant thought of it is stressful on its own. Sometimes it’s ok if you need to do something in the evening or you need to work later because it’s urgent. If I’m with the kids and worrying about work that’s not good for anyone. It’s imperative to either make yourself not worry (which for me is impossible) or you do what you need to in order to get it off your mind for that moment- even if it means you give your full attention to work during time that you originally planned for family. The thing is that in these digital times I have everything on my phone, so the balance is trickier. Sometimes I find myself sitting with the baby on his mat and trying to answer an email at the same time. It is a process not a test or code to judge yourself by.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

There are so many qualities that I think make someone a good parent, but it would be impossible for one person to possess all of them. It’s only natural that some parents will be better at some things and worse at others, since each individual comes to parenthood with different strengths and weaknesses. I think the most important part of being a good parent, though, is supporting your child and being very patient with them. After all, becoming a full-fledged adult is hard! As such, it is essential that parents work to nurture self-confidence in their children, yet at the same time make sure they know that they have a strong and loving home supporting them at all times.

Furthermore, a parent should always strive to set a good example! It’s amazing how children absorb our positive traits and view them, even subconsciously, as something to aspire to have as well. For instance, my own mother is an optimistic person who truly has a zest for life and tries to see the beauty in everything. She always made me stop and look at the pretty little flowers whenever we were strolling around; she constantly takes the time to enrich herself and learn new things. Although this way of being doesn’t come naturally to me, just the way she existed in the universe during my childhood set a good example for me on how to find joy in the simple things. Even as an adult, the behavior I observed still serves to guide me on my own journey of self-improvement in that area of my life.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

I find “dream big” to be a very broad idea that many people define differently. For me, both on a personal level and for my children, I think of it as being able to achieve a desire you have to the fullest extent possible by throwing yourself into the process 100%. As I discussed in my previous answer, I think the best way to inspire my children to live like this is by showing them how it is done through my own actions which sets a positive example for them to follow.

Of course, accomplishing this is not a simple task. It undoubtedly takes a commitment to constantly evolving into a better version of yourself and a way to manage fear or anxiety associated with risk taking. I truly believe the thing that makes us grow most is when we step outside of our comfort zone, which is easier said than done. A few years ago, when I decided to transition my career path out of the private sector and into the public one, I remember all my friends being deeply surprised. At the time, they were all working for private companies and simply couldn’t understand why I would work for a government office to promote tourism when I could make much more money in the private sector. However, for me, doing work that had a positive impact on the world was more important than any salary I could earn elsewhere, and I was willing to do whatever it took to get there professionally.

Later on, when I decided I wanted to work in a more hands-on position in order to have more of an effect on incoming tourism to Israel, I committed all the way and made the huge step to relocate my family to Los Angeles, one of the farthest offices we have from Israel. This was a huge decision, but to me, it was my only option if I were to live out my greatest aspiration. I hope that it ends up being a decision where my kids not only enjoy the experiences they gain from it, but also have a clear and concrete example of what it takes to live out one’s most precious dreams.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

Success is knowing that I’m in a place that is right for me and that I’m on a path that will make me grow, both as a parent and as a career woman. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I accomplished everything I want to, but just that I know I’m doing what I can to get there — that’s success.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

I am part of a lot of social groups online that have to do with parenting. The resources they contain help me a lot with every aspect of it. I feel like every question I have I can get an answer to in these types of forums, or at least a couple of useful opinions and perspectives. I guess you could say I acquire my parenting wisdom straight from the source! It has proven itself indispensable in multiple occasions. Sometimes I ask myself how did our mothers survive without the internet?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Marshall McLuhan was one of the first professors and philosophers we studied in my communications courses. In my opinion, a standout quote from him is, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” The original intent of this message was to focus on how technology is oriented and how it changes our behavior as a result. I love it and I think that it’s very relevant for humanity, particularly in the past few decades. It is amazing that we live in times where we can see change happening right in front of us and its immediate effect on the world and society. Regardless of it is for better or worse, the key is to have an awareness of these processes that are constantly evolving and adapting.

Of course, technology’s ubiquitous impact our lives makes it very relevant to the world of travel! Travel and the way we experience it is just one of the many things that has changed drastically as a result of technological progress and the many tools we shaped for it. It is always interesting and challenging to see how we can further adapt to make travel better in the everchanging technological sphere.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would focus on a movement in education, specifically education that is centered on learning about other cultures and places in the world. Not only studying world history and cultures from the past, but also exploring other cultures that exist now around the globe. Although the world is getting ‘smaller’ in the age of the internet and supposedly people can get all the information they want about other places, cultures, and countries easily, I think that it needs to be a bigger part of early education, so people grow up understanding the great diversity of this planet. It is something that can only serve to further connect us all, making us simultaneously more curious and tolerant of others. Furthermore, in our increasingly globalized workplaces, an international perspective is essential for understanding both one’s coworkers and clientele.

This type of education would also naturally serve as an excellent motivator for travel. It is one thing to read about something but getting to go explore it firsthand is quite another. Israel and so many other destinations are filled with wonderful places, cities, food, history, and nature just waiting to be experienced. If we can instill in people from an early age the courage and interest it takes to go out and be a part of it, ignorance to others will consequently become a notion of the past. It is infinitely harder to hate someone or make someone an “other” if you have met them and seen their unique way of life, which is the grandest goal of those in the travel industry in my opinion.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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