The first rule of videotaping a bar mitzvah is to learn who the parents are. They’re the ones who’ll be paying you and they expect to see themselves on video as much as possible. I learned this the hard way while taping Nathan Spiegel’s 1987 bar mitzvah reception. The event occurred at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel not long after it was featured in the film Beverly Hills Cop. The location was teeming with decked out guests and tourists all looking like low-level gangsters. There was so much cologne in the air, I feared the place would explode if someone lit a match.
My partner for the day was Julien. We were old high school friends who taped weddings and parties for extra money. As we entered the hotel, we learned there were three bar mitzvah receptions that day. We asked the concierge about the Spiegel event. He said we needed to get security clearance first. Nathan’s father was an Israeli macher who once served in the Knesset (the Israeli legislature). I got the gig because Mr. Spiegel and my grandfather belonged to the same synagogue.
A security guard took our photos, copied our driver’s licenses and gave us name tags. We entered the main ballroom foyer just as hors d’oeuvres were being served. Guests hovered around the food trays trying to identify the mystery meat. I asked Julien to locate Mr. and Mrs. Spiegel so we could introduce ourselves. He dove into the crowd while I sought an outlet to charge our battery and portable light. I stashed our equipment behind a raised platform where a three-piece klezmer band played European folk tunes. Julien returned looking sheepish.
“You okay,” I asked.
He gestured to the klezmer band. “Accordion players give me the creeps.”
We moved across the foyer leaving our equipment behind. Julien pointed out a short balding man with an even shorter woman.
“That’s Mr. and Mrs. Spiegel.”
“Excellent,” I said.
“They don’t speak English. Only Hebrew.”
“That means we don’t have to chit chat.”
Once the klezmer band moved into the main ballroom, we kicked into action. I connected the battery to the VHS recorder. Julien tested the portable light and did a quick color balance on the camera. I unpacked the…