Updated: May 5
Growing up, he was always underappreciated by people around him and devalued by his demanding mother.
As a result, he developed an argumentative facade to hide the hurt he always felt.
Deep inside, however, Joel has always sought connection and affection. In "The Book of Joel," he eventually finds this with Malka.
Although he first met Sam when they were both children, he didn't start talking to Sam extensively until he met Sam again in their high school's debate club.
Joel's birthday: December 5, 1901
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Relationship with Parents:
Joel's mother, Rokhl (Rachel), is quite strict - stricter than either of Sam's parents. Growing up, his mother was quite critical of his stutter.
Being relentlessly bullied at school for being small, shy, and a stutterer also didn't help his self-confidence.
An ambitious woman who wanted a better future for her son (she definitely did not want him to be like her husband, who was an unsuccessful peddler), Rachel was quite the "tiger mom" to Joel. Critical, cold, and emotionally distant, she causes him to develop a number of complexes about love.
Joel's father Pinchas, on the other hand, was more loving. However, he rarely stood up to Rachel's harsh criticism of Joel and himself. This causes Joel to drift apart from him as time goes on.
As a teen and young adult, Joel continues to love his father, but also finds his laziness and passivity frustrating.
Joel was a top student and enjoys reading a broad range of publications in his spare time. Although he is currently an atheist, he was raised Jewish. His parents sent him to both Yiddish and Hebrew school (with an emphasis on the latter) and he had a Bar Mitzvah, which was one of his proudest childhood moments.
This is in contrast to Sam, who was raised atheist. Not only did Sam never go to Hebrew school, he also did not have a Bar Mitzvah (much to Joel's surprise).
Due to how he was raised, Joel grew up with low self-esteem. It wasn't until high school that he started using debate as a way to become more confident and charismatic. However, his confident façade slips from time to time.
Views on Yiddish
Despite his parents' desire for him to learn more about his roots and the fact that he was sent to Hebrew school every weekend growing up, Joel shows little genuine interest in being anything but a red-white-and-blue-flag-waving American.
In this way, he's a foil to Sam, who is much more immersed in his Yiddish identity. Unlike Sam, he does not like Yiddish theatre and wonders what attracts Sam to what he deems "entertainment for old people."
Joel only speaks Yiddish to his parents (who have limited English), preferring to speak English to everyone else, even other Yiddish speakers like Harvey, Sam, and others (partially because he is not confident when speaking Yiddish and partially because he wants to assert his American identity).
This preference of English over Yiddish may also reflect his desire to assert his independence from his parents.
However, as he gets older, his views on Yiddish change. He realizes that the main reason he didn't like Yiddish was because he didn't like a lot of things about his home life. Once he started interacting with Yiddish speakers outside his home, he started gaining a fuller understanding of his linguistic and cultural heritage.
Find out more about Joel in these podcast episodes: