Updated: Aug 2
Joel's parents immigrated to the US in 1900 from southeastern Poland. Like the deli owner Harvey Feingold, Joel's parents are also Galitzianers.
Joel attended the same high school as Sam and Frankie. He met Sam in Literature Class as well as in Debate Club and after debating about religion (Sam and Joel are both atheists), Joel - impressed by Sam's sentence structure and persuasiveness - decided to befriend him.
Joel is an argumentative young man who always wants people to know his opinion. He doesn't like people with no or few opinions and prefers the company of other similarly-argumentative people.
Joel was raised in a religious Jewish household (in contrast to Sam, who was raised atheist). Accordingly, Joel was more active in the Jewish community of the Lower East Side. He grew up attending Hebrew School, Jewish community centres, and Jewish summer camps.
Despite his parents' desire for him to learn more about his roots, however, Joel shows little genuine interest in being anything but a red-white-and-blue-flag-waving American. He rarely replies to his parents in Yiddish, preferring American English (partially because he is not confident when speaking Yiddish and partially because he wants to assert his American identity). He does not like Yiddish theatre and wonders what attracts Sam to what he deems "entertainment for old people."