Tears of Joy and Despair

by Tamar Duke-Cohan

cassieI happened into a public bathroom a few evenings ago. As I entered, a woman flew out of the first stall, ran into another and banged the door shut. I could hear her muttering and sobbing over the phone. Although I could not understand the words because she was speaking in another language, it was clear what had happened; she had left the door of the first stall open, and it was evident that the hope for a pregnancy – the prayers for a child – were over. I stood there for a just second listening to those awful sobs – tears of despair and the loss of hope, of disappointment and grief. After I left, those desperate, whispered sobs stayed with me for many hours.

That evening I was guiding a bride through her first immersion in preparation for her wedding (I volunteer at Mayyim Hayyim). After the ceremony, she came out of the mikveh room, dripping in a white bathrobe, to where her female relatives were waiting. Three generations of women jumped and hugged and laughed and cried. These were very different tears – ones of hope, and satisfaction, and unutterable joy. These were tears from the other side of the crevasse of the human experience. It was a wondrous thing.

As I drove home it occurred to me how much these tears actually had in common – there was someone on the other side of that phone in that bathroom; maybe a mother or sister who was supporting and loving that poor woman in her moment of despair. This person was just like the bride’s relatives – someone who cares.

I also thought about how lucky I am because there are so many people in my life who care about me and would carry me across any crevasse – my husband and sons, my mother, sister, and nieces, my closest friends, my god-daughters, and many other friends – all amazing people. I know it’s a truism and a cliché, but I think it’s worth remembering that it’s the people in our life who give it meaning, and it is they who carry us across the crevasse.

Newton resident Tamar Duke-Cohan has been a Mikveh Guide since since 2005 when she participated in the second class of training. She is a member of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline and is an avid Torah reader.


  • Mayyim Hayyim currently has limited availability for immersions while we undergo construction to repair damage incurred to the building following the extreme cold on February 4. We will be updating this page periodically with new information. To support our repairs, click here to donate.