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Author to discuss power of gratitude in free JFSA talk

Janice Kaplan

What began as an ambitious idea — to spend a full year living gratefully — became a life-changing experience for author Janice Kaplan. Her inspirational memoir, “The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life” (Dutton, 2015) was a New York Times bestseller. Kaplan will be the keynote speaker at a free Together in Jewish Learning talk, a community-wide online event on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 6 p.m. The event, rescheduled after a planned appearance in March was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, is the second annual Rabbi Lee A. Kivel Lecture on Jewish Life. The Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Synagogue-Federation Dialogue presents Together in Jewish Learning, and breakout sessions with local rabbis will follow Kaplan’s keynote Zoom presentation.

“The concept of spending a year being more grateful started out as a literary device,” Kaplan told the AJP. “It had a profound effect on me. I ended up having the best year of my life.” Kaplan kept a gratitude journal during that year. “I don’t do that anymore, it is so completely incorporated into my daily attitude. We can’t always change events in life but we can control what I call the reframing — turning it in a different direction.

“Most of us understand that grateful people tend to be happier. This is not touchy-feely stuff. Research proves that gratitude makes us healthier, improves sleep, lowers stress, blood pressure, and some inflammatory disease, and lessens depression. Gratitude can have a profound effect on tragedy and sadness. If we can help ourselves and help others, I think that matters.

“It’s expressing gratitude that we’re not very good at. It can be in the form of giving, saying thank you, writing a letter of gratitude — it’s the doing, not just the thinking about it. Find ways to incorporate gratitude into your life, like writing something you’re grateful for on a scrap of paper by the bed at night.

“Gratitude crosses all religions and I will indeed mention its important role in Judaism. Rabbis talk about the deeply Jewish concept of hakarat hatov, look for the good. Every time we say a blessing we’re expressing gratitude and lifting something — like a piece of bread — from the ordinary to the extraordinary.”

As the editor-in-chief of “Parade” magazine, the most widely read publication in America, Kaplan worked with major political figures and interviewed celebrities and stars. She was deputy editor of “TV Guide” magazine, and executive producer of the TV Guide Television Group, creating more than 30 television shows that aired primetime on major networks. Kaplan began her career as an award-winning producer at ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America.” She has appeared dozens of times on television shows including “Today,” “Entertainment Tonight,” and “CBS This Morning.” A magna cum laude graduate of Yale University, she won Yale’s Murray Fellowship for writing.

Kaplan is the author and co-author of 15 books, including the New York Times bestselling memoir “I’ll See You Again,” written with Jackie Hance. Her novels include “The Botox Diaries,” “Mine Are Spectacular!” and “The Men I Didn’t Marry” and the Lacy Fields mysteries “Looks To Die For” and “A Job To Kill For.” Her books are translated and published in more than a dozen countries.

The Rabbi Lee A. Kivel Endowment Fund, held at the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, funds the lecture. Jane Kivel established the fund with a gift to the Jewish Federation to support Jewish community learning initiatives in memory of her husband. Rabbi Thomas Louchheim and Avi Erbst co-chaired this year’s committee.

“People can attack us and circumstances can be against us, but the rabbis try and center people on the fact that they should try and be grateful for who they are, where they are, and that there is a God that gives them kind of a foundation for living despite what’s occurring to them,” says Louchheim.

“It’s kind of like a surfer – the key to surfing is that you surf both in the calm, in the well of the wave, and on top of the wave, so you’re up and down. The stability that we get whether we’re in the calm or in the violent wave itself … the stability of gratitude helps us like a surfboard, get through it,” he says, noting that he found this metaphor in a book on Mussar, an ancient Jewish ethical practice.

Kaplan promises that attendees can profoundly change their family relationships with what she will share in the lecture. “Improve relationships with your children, your spouse, and the whole family. Knowing how to appreciate your children brings gratitude to their lives.” She also will talk about gratitude at work, “how it can help transform a workplace and make you more successful.”

Breakout sessions

Rabbi Stephanie Aaron:

Thank you in the time of plague and uncertainty

Rabbi Avi Alpert:

Who can be thankful on our behalf?

Rabbi Israel Becker:

Clear your spiritual clutter

Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin

A tale of two gratitudes

Rabbi Helen Cohn:

You must have been a beautiful baby, but baby, look at you now

Rabbi Thomas Louchheim:

Attitudes of gratitude

Rabbi Sara Metz:

Pray to God a new prayer

Rabbi Scott Saulson:

Getting beyond “Good grief!”

Debe Campbell, former AJP executive editor, contributed to this article.