• The Boniuk Foundation & Chicken Soup for the Soul Launch New Initiative to Promote Tolerance, Compassion and Respect

    Through a joint initiative with Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Boniuk Foundation has published a series of books for children, teens, and adults. Using these books, we have developed a multifaceted program to promote tolerance, respect and compassion as an antidote to bullying and to create more socially aware and empathetic communities. We have created anti-bullying lesson plans and materials for use in the classroom; we have developed television programming focused on using storytelling to promote our mission; we are also creating social media outlets that disseminate pro-tolerance content on a daily basis. All this is being done with the goal to create a robust program for children, their parents, and their teachers—a program where these issues not only are spoken about in school, but also are seen when turning on the television, phone or computer.


    For more information about The Boniuk Foundation’s programs with Chicken Soup for the Soul, visit www.chickensoup.com. Click here to view the complete list of books.

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  • ‘Chicken Soup’ books to feed students’ reading appetite

    Original Story: http://blogs.houstonisd.org/news/2015/06/02/chicken-soup-books-to-feed-students-summer-reading-appetite/

    A new partnership between the Boniuk Foundation and Chicken Soup for the Soul is helping students in HISD and across Harris County to develop more cultural awareness while simultaneously building their literacy skills.

    The partnership kicked off on May 14 at Poe Elementary School, where a group of students gathered to open boxes of books that were being delivered to the libraries of every school in Harris County.

    “At a time when bullying, school violence, and other similar challenges are pressing issues, this initiative provides vital literacy resources to inspire both young people and adults to embrace diversity, reject stereotypes, make good choices, and build more inclusive communities,” said Liz Philippi, manager of HISD Library Services.

    As part of the new initiative, the Boniuk Foundation is donating Chicken Soup for the Soul books to all primary, middle, and high schools in Harris County, and has also covered half of the cost for Harris County families to subscribe to Chicken Soup for the Soul’s online library, which contains thousands of stories from the bestselling books published over the past 20-plus years by Chicken Soup for the Soul.

    “We are excited to partner with Houston ISD and Chicken Soup for the Soul to ensure all students have access to information that covers important issues for our youth today, including tolerance, compassion, and making good choices,” said Dr. Milton Boniuk. “Our mission at the Boniuk Foundation is to promote tolerance, respect, and compassion throughout society. We believe the focus on these principles will help support anti-bullying programs in schools.”

    An additional component to the initiative is a CBS Saturday morning family TV show that will air nationwide starting Oct. 3, 2015, and run for 52 weeks on CBS.

    “We have always recognized the value of storytelling to impart good values and open readers’ minds to new ideas, “said Bill Rouhana, CEO of Chicken Soup for the Soul. “The Boniuk Foundation’s donation of Chicken Soup for the Soul books to HISD and other Harris County students, parents, and teachers provides an important tool to promote tolerance and start conversations about these important issues.”

    For more information on the initiative, please visit the Chicken Soup for the Soul website and click on the Boniuk link.


  • Being Interfaith Literate: A Guide To Online Interfaith Etiquette

    Original Post from The Christian Muslim Forum found here

    One criticism occasionally directed at Interfaith Dialogue is that it has the potential to involve a lot of theoretical chit-chat with little substance or practical application in the real world. Open and constructive communication is, however, the foundation of good relationships between people of different faiths. It is the basis of everything that follows. If we’re not able to speak to people who uphold different beliefs without getting red-faced and in a huff then any sort of joint Interfaith event or venture will be rendered impossible. For that reason we have to become Interfaith Literate. This means understanding the potential effects of the words we use, learning to use inclusive language, and developing ways of diffusing negatively-charged conversations.

    This article focuses on the etiquette of interfaith conversation, particularly within an online setting, as many of us are introduced to interfaith dialogue through social media or organisations such as the Christian Muslim forum.

    1. Be prepared for disagreement.

    Before we start, we should acknowledge the fact that Interfaith interactions are going to be uncomfortable and awkward at times. The stereotype of cosy meetings with tea and biscuits is often a far cry from the reality. When disagreements happen (and they certainly will), we shouldn’t panic, declare the situation a hopeless cause, and simply give up. Disagreement is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, a debate where everyone has the same view is essentially a mutual appreciation society. When we all agree, we have a tendency to become rigid and self-congratulatory; smug even. Being among people with different beliefs can actually help us in our personal attempts towards humility. It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on our own beliefs and hopefully become more flexible and understanding as a result.

    2. Be positive.

    Whether we are speaking face to face with someone or communicating via social media, we should aim to create a space where people can be open and honest. We should acknowledge the fact that the other person is allowing themselves to be vulnerable as they share their experiences and we shouldn’t abuse that position. As such, blunt statements like ‘you’re wrong’ should be avoided. Accusations like these make us defensive and reluctant to share.  As a way of avoiding such direct comments, Interfaith worker Peter Adams recommends that we, ‘look for the good rather than something to disagree with.’ In this way we promote positive dialogue rather than confrontation.

    3. Be inclusive.

    Interfaith is as much about self-exploration and the individual as it is about larger groups of people getting along. As interfaith participants we should recognise that no two individuals interpret religious doctrine or experience the world and/or God in the same way. Therefore, we should avoid using sweeping statements like ‘we believe this’ or ‘you believe that.’ Both create and promote a counterproductive dichotomy of ‘Us and Them’. Rather, it is often more useful to speak about our own personal beliefs using ‘I believe’ or ‘I think.’ In this way, as Imam Jamal Rahman (one third of the Interfaith Amigos) says, we can ‘get to know each other on a personal, human level. That’s the best way to overcome the divide of different theologies.’ (view full video) Interfaith starts from within – opening up our hearts and then reaching out to others as fellow individuals.

    4. Be mindful.

    Adopting inclusive language goes hand in hand with an increased awareness of how our words can be interpreted or misinterpreted. We might think that using a nifty war metaphor such as ‘go into battle’ or ‘confront the enemy’ will pack a powerful rhetorical punch but it will probably just be interpreted as unnecessarily aggressive and undermine anything positive that we wanted to say. In particular we should avoid “loaded” words such as ‘infidel’ or ‘kaffir.’ Strong verbs like ‘deny’ or ‘reject’ are also common culprits of discord and are counterproductive to interfaith discourse.

    4. Be responsible.

    Becoming interfaith literate means that we develop an acute sense of responsibility when we interact with others. Whether we are in a closed group, private conversation or public space, we should conduct ourselves as if anyone can hear or read what we say. That could include friends, people from the same denomination, and crucially, those who don’t share our views. Therefore, we have to think, do our words target or ridicule people with different beliefs? Are they a ruse to unite certain groups against another group? Any divisive tactic goes against the very essence of interfaith which is an all-encompassing and inclusive way of interacting that allows us to transcend human-made boundaries and make personal connections with people from all faith and non-faith backgrounds.

    5. Be clear.

    We’ve all had arguments where one person is upset about what was said while the other was angry about how it was said. No matter how long the argument continues, the two people are never going to be able to resolve the problem unless they recognise that they’re talking about entirely different things. For that reason, it’s important to make it clear which aspect we’re commenting on during interfaith interactions. Are you challenging certain ideas or the way those ideas were expressed? This pre-emptive clarification is particularly useful in online conversations which are particularly prone to misunderstandings.

    We should also bear in mind that English is not everyone’s first language and so we should allow for translation issues. If someone isn’t a native English speaker, they’re not necessarily going to able to express nuance. Words like ‘faith’ and ‘religion’ might be used interchangeably or strong words like ‘must’ might be used in the place of a softer ‘should’ for instance. If we keep that in mind, we can avert unnecessary upsets.

    6. Be kind.

    When someone makes a faux pas, we should be kind rather than pouncing on that person
    They might not have realized how their words would be interpreted or they may still be getting to grips with the concept of Interfaith.  We’ve all said things in badly phrased ways or completely misjudged a situation. This is how we learn. If we all knew how to communicate perfectly with each other from the get go, they’d be no need for interfaith dialogue in the first place! Mistakes are an opportunity for everyone to learn: for the person who made it and for those who respond to it.

    7. Be thankful.

    There’s always a part of us that wants to have the final word when we leave a discussion. Our ego creates a desire to ‘win’ at all costs and it tries to achieve this by putting others down.

    Instead, we should show gratitude and thank the other person for the opportunity of speaking together. Perhaps you had polar opposite views and things got a little messy. But there’s no reason to end a conversation on a low. Showing gratitude is one way, in Peter Adams words, of ‘treating each other seriously, even when we don’t agree.’ Even ‘disastrous’ conversations give us something to reflect on and alert us to areas where we can improve.

    We can also take the opportunity to apologize for any misunderstandings or wrong assumptions. Showing gratitude and offering apologies are great ways of showing mutual respect and mean that everyone leaves the discussion feeling appreciated.

  • An Interfaith Adventure

    What Happens When a Muslim, Jew, Christian, Atheist and Agnostic Travel the World Together? Victor, Josselin, Samuel, Ilan and Ismael are atheist, agnostic, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, in that order. With religious tolerance in mind, the five twenty-something French students, decided to travel across the world.

    posted 28 May 2014: Original story link 

    Victor, Josselin, Samuel, Ilan and Ismael are atheist, agnostic, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, in that order. With religious tolerance in mind, the five twenty-something French students, decided to travel across the world from July 2013 to June 2014 for their Interfaith Tour. The goal? To raise awareness of the many interfaith projects already out there making a difference.

    Global Voices (GV): After your journey around the world, you have now begun a tour of France to share your experiences. How has the project been received in France so far?

    Victor (atheist): The tour was well received in France, better than we imagined. People in France are interested in inter-religious topics and the international component that we provided. Many people come to see us at the end of our talk to thank us, they were moved by the work we achieved during this tour and the hope it gives them. The impact in the media was also quite impressive. A French daily newspaper called us to tell us that the article about our trip on their Facebook page was the most shared and commented of the past two years, ahead of articles about Barack Obama or François Hollande.

    GV: Long trips and close quarters with others often lead to self-introspection and additional personal changes. Has your view of your faith evolved during the trip? If so, how? 

    Josselin (agnostic): My faith has not changed, although it has been questioned at times. Because of my particular belief, agnostic, within the scope of the project, people often believed that I was looking for a religion to adopt, but it was not like that at all. The tour, in fact, strengthened my agnosticism because I believe in God, or in this case the being I call God, without seeing myself belonging to any religion or current religious practices. After this trip, I am even more convinced that we all have the same God and that for instance, Christians and Muslims simply take different paths to reach God.

    Samuel (Christian): My Christian faith is always evolving because it is a relationship. It changes, mutates, evolves. Traveling around the world is always an opportunity for internal change. I have not been subjected to too much radical questioning with the exception of three months in Asia from December to February, from Mumbai to Jakarta to Tokyo, Beijing and Kuala Lumpur. This region is a desert of Christian communities and it can be difficult not to feel alone. These are great moments of poverty that allowed me to root my faith in the good soil, which does not require a favorable context to bear fruit.

    Ilan (Jewish): The Torah says “VéAhavta IreHa KamoHa” (Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself). This command is the foundation of life in society and it has guided me throughout the tour. The constant back and forth between our inner-selves and others has fed my life experiences. Through encounters with the Other, I reinforced my sense of belonging to the Jewish community, its unique history and its universal values. The trip has definitely ”converted” me to this brotherhood but I never forgot who I am and where I come from. This dual action – self-doubt and identity reinforcement – seems fundamental to me when we project ourselves when we meet other people. This action is independent of how beautiful and rewarding the meetings with others are.

    Ismael (Muslim): I am not sure if I’d say that my faith has evolved, but one thing is for sure: This trip has opened my world much more than I thought. We often talked about inter-religious themes during this tour and during my two years as a member of the Coexist Association. As a Muslim, I was always happy to work with people of different faiths.  However, with people in my own community, and by that I mean Muslims from other denominations than Sunnis, I was not as open and a bit suspicious. During this tour, I had the opportunity to see how the global Muslim community was divided and how urgent it was for me to get involved in both the intra-religious and the inter-religious aspect of our work. But I have hope that we can do better because I will always remember that day after a Friday prayer at the great mosques of Muscat in Oman when  I unknowingly prayed next to an Ibadi and a Shiite by my side.  That day reinforced my belief that when we want to live together, we can always find people willing to help us in that endeavor.


    For more information visit http://www.interfaithtour.com/en/