New Jersey native Joel Haber, also known as Israeli tour guide “Fun Joel,” is touring the United States this fall. His Jewish Food History lecture tour began in Playa Del Rey, California, on October 19 and is currently scheduled to conclude in New Jersey at Livingston’s Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center in mid-November. Haber is currently booked for eight appearances in the metropolitan area.
Haber explained, “I’ve focused on Jewish food history, and, specifically, I use the history as a window into culture. Basically, people say food expresses culture. If that’s the case, I believe you should be able to use food as a mirror to see culture reflected back.“
He added, “I have lectured a number of times in various venues, as well as online over the last year. I’ve written articles and a blog on this subject, and I am also working on a book.” With tourists unable to come to Israel, at least for now, he’s bringing his tours to them.
In addition to presenting a virtual version of his Machane Yehuda food market tour, there are five distinct lecture topics on his itinerary. Haber detailed: “I’m presenting each lecture at least once. One is about Israeli foods and what they say about Israeli culture and history. We have a deeper understanding of Israeli society via the food. Another is about the history of Jews and alcohol, which is surprisingly more complex than you might think. A third is about the Jews’ role as transporters of food around the world throughout history. Because of so many different circumstances of us moving everywhere, we have really been significant transporters of food—not only for ourselves, but for the peoples of the world. The fourth sounds more depressing than it is; the really interesting topic of the connection between Jewish food and antisemitism. In other words, foods have grown out of antisemitism in our reactions. It’s meant to be an interesting and not depressing take on the subject. My last one is the topic of the book that I’m working on, which is looking at Shabbat stews from all around the world: cholent, hamin, dafina and many others, using them as a way of tracing our migrations through the Diaspora.”
As for a target audience, “I don’t think you need to be a foodie,” stated Haber. “This is not a cooking demonstration. It’s really more about an interest, if you have an interest in food or history or culture. Even if you don’t care that much about food, just go to learn more about culture in a way that you might not expect. You know a lot of people don’t think about those deep connections between what we eat and who we are, but in fact it is one of the most prevalent things in the world.”
Haber outlined the backstory to his lecture tour: “I have a very popular food-tasting tour in the Machane Yehuda shuk. As I began to research and enhance this tour, I started to dig into the history of food. That led me, years ago, to the first lecture I gave on the topic. It was broad, and not very in-depth on any one topic because it was a lot of topics. Gradually, as I continued to study, read and do more research, I developed other lectures on other topics in connection with Jewish food history.”
Haber explained, “Of all the different things that I’ve done in my life, they all kind of blend from one thing to another. The fact that I’m a tour-guide isn’t separate from my studying Jewish history. I think the most interesting thing really is to understand our culture, for both those who are very familiar with it and for those who are not particularly familiar with it. For both, this is the type of presentation that can deepen your understanding and get this deeper connection. It’s also entertaining, because there are lots of really interesting facts and stories.”
Haber grew up in New Jersey and lived in New York and Los Angeles before he moved to Israel in March 2009. In America, Haber worked in the film industry, focusing on screenwriting. After making aliyah, Haber received his license as a tour guide in February 2012.
“I have continued to bring elements of my past to my work as a guide. I use my love of ‘story’ in the tours I give, entertaining my clients, surprising them and giving them a sense of the drama and beauty that is my beloved land of Israel. And since they are on a tour with Fun Joel, I make sure the tours aren’t remotely boring!”
For more information on the 2021 US speaking tour, visit http://www.tasteofjew.com