Oak Knoll Theology: Deepening the Connections Between Faiths

In Lisa Durant’s grade 12 theology class, students learn not only about world religions but also the importance of friendly dialogue and theological discussion between members of all faiths.

They are acting on the values of Nostra Aetate — the Vatican II Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, which states, “The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons [and daughters], that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among [each other].”

The students had recently concluded a unit on Judaism, which included a very personal introduction to anti-semitism and the Holocaust, when Upper School Computer Science Department Chair Talia Nochumson spoke to them about her grandparents who were Holocaust survivors.

Nochumson spoke of their narrow escape from the Nazis when the Swedish businessman Raoul Wallenberg provided her Hungarian grandparents with documents to allow them to leave the country shortly before the Russians imprisoned him. She shared with the students the tragic news that her great-grandmother and her great-uncle had perished on their way to a concentration camp. She offered snippets of a letter that her great-grandmother had written to her family as she was being brutally transported to Ukraine. She also shared a recording of her grandfather relating the tale, which was produced by the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Following Nochumson’s impactful and profoundly personal presentation, Durant asked her students to respond to what they had learned by answering the prompt: “Choose a ‘good thing, spiritual or moral’ or a ‘socio-cultural value’ that we learned from the Jewish tradition and discuss how you can ‘recognize, preserve, and promote’ this in your life.”

Oak Knoll Senior Joci Monti ’24 wrote, “Hearing Dr. Nochumson talk about her relatives’ lives throughout this horrific time while having the opportunity to read heartfelt notes written from her grandmother, in hopes of reaching their family, utterly opened my eyes. I found myself remembering just how recent the Holocaust had taken place. Overall, during these past few weeks in taking a deeper dive into the Jewish religion, I’ve learned respectable qualities and values that everyone, religious or not, should strive to implement into their lives.”

Nochumson’s story so moved the Campus Ministry team at Oak Knoll they decided to work through the auspices of the Jewish National Fund to plant trees of remembrance for her grandparents in Israel. The class of 2024 presented her with a certificate commemorating the tree planting. 

“I was very touched because I knew that my speech had an impact,” said Nochumson. “And it is part of Jewish tradition to celebrate events with the planting of a tree, which is a symbol of life.”

Nocumson’s family history spotlights the importance of many Oak Knoll values, and in particular, she references Holy Child Goal Five: “Holy Child Schools create a learning climate based on trust and reverence for the dignity and uniqueness of each person.”