The Questions We Must Ask Tamar Duke-Cohan's Jewish family inspired in her a commitment to examine the moral implications of her actions. Duke-Cohan believes in asking hard questions and arguing about the answers.
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The Questions We Must Ask

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The Questions We Must Ask

The Questions We Must Ask

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From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm James Hattori.

Unidentified Man #1: I believe in mystery.

Unidentified Woman: I believe in family.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe in being who I am.

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the power of failure.

Unidentified Man #4: And I believe normal life is extraordinary.

Unidentified Man #5: This I believe.

HATTORI: This morning's This I Believe essay came to us from Tamar Duke-Cohan. She's a wife, and a mother. She's a business analyst and she's also an educator. Duke-Cohan teaches classes about the Holocaust at Hebrew College's Prozdor program in Newton, Massachusetts.

Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON: Tamar Duke-Cohan wrote about a belief that arises from the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It's important to remember, she says, that disagreement about Israel's policies exists among the Israeli people and even within families. For her, the issue has been a focal point of her life and writing about her belief, she said, was a way to deal with it.

Here is Tamar Duke-Cohan with her essay for This I Believe.

Professor TAMAR DUKE-COHAN (Prozdor Program, Hebrew College, Newton, Massachusetts): I believe in asking hard questions and arguing about them.

I grew up in Israel in the '70s with the shadows of the Holocaust. We children knew that the people with the blue numbers on their arms were survivors, forcibly tattooed by Nazis in concentration camps, such as Auschwitz. In my family, too, the Holocaust left scars. My grandparents managed to escape Germany, but they left behind relatives and friends.

What beliefs do such collective memories create, especially when mixed in with the intensity of living with war and terrorism? In my family, they created a commitment to examine the morality of our actions — a feeling that we have a duty to do the right, that is, the moral thing. Even though we agree about that, my mother and I disagree about the implementation of our commitment to moral awareness.

My mother, who lives in Israel, believes that every action we take and our treatment of every individual must stand up to moral scrutiny. In this context, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank seems to her to be absolutely immoral. She also feels that the ongoing occupation is tearing apart the fabric of Israeli society.

She therefore joined an organization called Machsom Watch, whose volunteer women drive to military checkpoints in the West Bank daily. They monitor the soldiers' behavior for perceived human rights abuses and advocate for Palestinians denied passage.

Although many in Israel agree with their actions, my mother and her friends have been criticized for providing support to the enemy, and even attacked.

Unlike my mother, I don't live in Israel, nor can I view the world at such an individual level. I think the need to protect society as a whole is sometimes more important than the absolute commitment to each individual that my mother feels. Moral or not, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is a fact of life, as is the threat of terrorism. Given this realpolitik, I support the military checkpoints, which have managed to halt suicide bombings despite their negative impact on Palestinian lives.

This is not to say that my mother doesn't believe in the greater good, nor that I am indifferent to individual rights. The question is one of balance: Does the Israeli need for security outweigh the importance of the rights of individual Palestinians? I believe it does and my mother believes it does not.

The intellectual and ideological struggle in which my mother and I are engaged has at times been painful. We have remained close, however, and have even glimpsed islands of agreement as we navigate the rapids of discord. I attribute this to our shared belief in another idea, deeply rooted in Jewish tradition. This idea, to which I alluded earlier, is that we are duty bound to confront moral dilemmas and scrutinize the implications of our actions.

For me, this is the main lesson of the Holocaust. We must hotly debate the political and ethical questions posed by today's complicated world — and we should sometimes disagree, avoiding the dangers of groupthink, while striving for compromise. That's why I believe in asking hard questions and arguing about them.

ALLISON: Tamar Duke-Cohan with her essay for This I Believe.

Duke-Cohan told us that she and her mother agree about almost everything else. And, although, they make each other angry when they discuss this issue, they continue to talk every day.

If you would like to join the more than 30,000 people who have submitted essays to our series, visit, for information and to see what others have written.

For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

HATTORI: Jay Allison is co-editor with Dan Gediman, John Gregory and Viki Merrick of the book, "This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women."

Two weeks from now, Palestinian born Terry Awol(ph) of Detroit tell us about her belief in resisting fear.

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