If you are hosting a simchah, then you probably know Mr. Mark Mittel. He has been capturing simchah memories on film for members of our community for over 30 years.

This writer interviewed Mr. Mittel in person, socially distanced of course, in my backyard, and learning first-hand how the photography business at simchahs has been over the past few months. He shared some powerful insights and heartwarming stories, as well.

Before the recent pandemic, Mr. Mittel photographed all types of simchahs: bris milah, bar mitzvah, bas mitzvah, wedding, etc. Since the pandemic hit, he has been busy photographing weddings, but sadly not the other types of simchahs. Hashem should allow us to hold all of them again soon.

On March 17, Mr. Mittel was at a wedding in Monsey and, as the chasan and kallah headed to the chupah, the wedding hall was shut down. Everyone moved outside for the chupah. Then, amazingly, they were able to find another hall 40 minutes away to host the wedding. So, the caterer loaded a truck with all the wedding food and transported it to the other hall where the rest of the wedding took place. “I knew then that we would be resilient and there for each other and that we would make it work,” Mr. Mittel shared. “That was the last time I was in a wedding hall.” Now, people are still going ahead with weddings. Some are changing dates and the venues have changed, but people have stepped forward, volunteering houses and backyards to help family, friends, and strangers. People have opened their homes to complete strangers. Mi k’amcha Yisrael? Mr. Mittel stated, “This pandemic has really shown me who we are and how we are here for each other.” He noted that the most interesting part is how, before this, weddings had become cookie-cutter big and expensive, as we could afford or not afford them. Now we see couples can get married nicely in a scaled-down fashion.

He shared comments from people who recently hosted these types of weddings and attendees, who’ve said, “It’s beautiful!” “It’s so meaningful,” and “It’s how it should be.” One noted, “The only drawback is that you are often missing close relatives and close friends whom you would want there.”

Mr. Mittel pointed out, “It’s at least showing there’s a different way of doing it.” He added that he hopes we will all keep this in mind going forward and not get trapped in the keeping up with the neighbor, relative, etc. problem.

He added that people are enjoying the simchah because there is less pressure for everything to be perfect. “We’re not at the Marina Del Rey,” he stated. “We’re going with the flow.”

The chasanim and kallos whom Mr. Mittel has worked with, who are not experiencing the chasunah they dreamed of since they were little, are still so grateful and thrilled to be married and appreciative of the simchah. Their priority is the health and safety of their relatives and friends. He saw this with the bar mitzvah boys whom he photographed, as well. These baalei simchah are exhibiting such beautiful midos and strong Torah values in the face of adversity. He shared some recent experiences with various backyard weddings. Some people danced for ten minutes and had their meal to go, like take-out food. Other weddings tried to make it leibedik with people dancing and jumping and yelling and dancing longer with the chasan and kallah. Some weddings have different waves of people come and go. They had 50 family members dancing and then they left, and 40 friends came and danced with the chasan and kallah.

Some people wear masks in the photos and some don’t. He quipped, “You don’t have to worry if they are smiling if they’re wearing a mask.”

In some cases, he Photoshops in those who are not there. “After 30 years in this business, I have seen everything, but in a matter of weeks I did so many things totally differently.”

At one wedding that took place in Brooklyn on a Motza’ei Shabbos at 2 a.m., he was shooting photographs from a rooftop, as the chupah was outside a school in a play yard.

There was another wedding with a mitzvah tantz where the grandparents were on a second-floor balcony, all dressed up for the wedding, and the chasan and kallah were two flights below on a driveway, and the gartel extended from the balcony so they danced with the grandparents. He described using a wide-lens camera and special lighting so the photo worked.

Many weddings include Zoom or live-stream. At these weddings, the Zoom participants are dressed up and they eat tish-food in the beginning with the chasan, and they sit for the chupah, and they eat wedding food during the meal, and they dance when the chasan and kallah are dancing. They set up their living room for a wedding. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and close friends make the best of it, and they are actually enjoying it very much.

Mr. Mittel pointed out that our grandparents or parents had small weddings at relatives’ homes, etc. “We could never imagine such a thing. Here probably at this point everyone has participated in this type of a wedding and we see it really does work. It’s not something of myth anymore. We’ll all remember it.”

Some challenges for Mr. Mittel, as the photographer, include the fact that he knows all the halls and, in the past, he knew what would happen and when it would happen. There was predictability. Now, he shares that he will walk into the wedding and say, okay, what is this going to look like. How long will we be here? Is there going to be some dancing or a lot of dancing? Will there be food or not? There is no predictability now. “It’s interesting and it would be great if there wasn’t a health concern.”

He stressed that it’s shown us that we can take something nonnegotiable and bring it down to basics. It shows us we can do it. “Out of necessity comes resilience.”

He intimated that in these small weddings he feels like part of the family. He is the photographer with the immediate family. “I become like a member of the family, only not related.” It has happened that the chasan comes to him and pulls him into a dance. Mr. Mittel is making new friends.

He shared a hope that peer pressure to make weddings that we weren’t comfortable with will be lessened. “We see there are ways to scale down and still make it beautiful.” People have commented that sometimes, in the big weddings, people can lose focus on the wedding. They become caught up in worrying about the colored lighting on the hall, the valet parking, or the fountain running. In this type of wedding, it’s just me and my kids, and food is not a big deal.

Hashem should end this pandemic so that we can please share our simchahs, and may we take the lessons learned and use them to share spiritually uplifting simchahs that emphasize the ruchniyus and not the gashmiyus.

 By Susie Garber