Joel Chasnoff formed a connection to Israel at a young age, even though he grew up over 6,000 miles away in Chicago attending Solomon Schechter Day School and Camp Ramah in Wisconsin during the summer.
The author and comedian has dedicated his work to portraying Israel outside of news headlines and educating Jewish communities about the lesser-known traditions and practices that make the Jewish state special, Chasnoff said.
“Typically, when we see Israel in the news, it’s for either conflict and war or being a startup nation and technology. Those are both important stories, but there’s so much more to the country that never gets spoken about,” he said.
Chasnoff will be performing a comedy set at the Jewish National Fund’s USA’s Breakfast for Israel on April 19. The free event will take place at the Wisconsin Country Club, 6200 W. Good Hope Road, Milwaukee. Registration begins at 7:45 a.m. and the breakfast and program will run from 8:15-9:15 a.m.
“My goal is to show them something about Israel that they don’t know and ideally do it through humor,” Chasnoff said.
Although Chasnoff now lives in Israel, he still feels like a Midwesterner at heart, he said.
After college, Chasnoff served in the IDF and credits the Jewish identity he formed during his upbringing as what motivated him to do so, he said.
Chasnoff began performing comedy shortly after his army service ended.
He began his comedy career performing in Chicago and Milwaukee and remembers driving up to Milwaukee frequently to perform at the former Comedy Café, he said.
While Chasnoff began his career performing at various clubs and colleges, he shifted his work towards Jewish communities over time.
“My main audience now is the Jewish world, whether it’s JNF, federations or synagogues, just because these are the stories that are most personal to me. I think they’re the ones that my audiences enjoy the most and relate to on the strongest level,” Chasnoff said.
Chasnoff has also authored and co-authored several books, covering a range of topics from his time serving in the Israeli Army to tennis. He co-authored “Essential Tennis” with the Milwaukee-based tennis coach Ian Westerman in May 2022.
His latest book, “Israel 201,” was published in February with his co-author Benji Lovitt.
“One goal for the book was to show not just visitors, but also Israelis themselves about all these tiny aspects of the country that make it magical and mysterious but also chaotic,” Chasnoff said.
The authors researched for over four years and spoke with an expert for every chapter in the book, he said.
“I think there’s something very Israeli about just giving out your cell phone number and having a one-on-one with somebody you don’t know,” Chasnoff said.
Some of the experts they spoke to include Yael Arad, the first Israeli to win an Olympic medal and Avi Issacharoff, the creator of the Israeli television series, “Fauda.”
“Whether we’re talking about parenting styles, ambulances and first responders, or even the tour guides, any aspect of Israeli society, being Jewish and Judaism somehow touches it, and I think that’s one of the amazing things about having a Jewish state,” Chasnoff said.
To register in advance, visit jnf.org/BFIwisconsin. If you have any questions about the program, you can contact Kim Levy, JNF-USA executive director, Midwest: email@example.com or 847-656-8880 ext. 763.
“I am excited to chair this year’s Jewish National Fund-USA Breakfast for Israel in Wisconsin with my husband Allan,” said event co-chair Susan Carneol. “At this year’s Breakfast, we will celebrate being together again for the first time since the onset of the pandemic …. I hope to see many new faces who will enjoy being entertained by our keynote speaker, author and comedian, Joel Chasnoff, as he presents us with a new, humorous perspective of Israel today as we celebrate our homeland’s 75th birthday.”