Joe grew up in Saint Louis Park, Minnesota—a suburb of Minneapolis—through junior high school. At the age of twelve he received a camcorder and proceeded to write and make films without an editing machine. When he started high school the family moved to Brighton, New York—a suburb of Rochester. While in high school, he turned the morning announcements into a closed circuit television program. He also acted in high school plays and one at Nazareth College.
His parents are Daniel II a retired developmental pediatrician and Alice née Rosenthal, a Jewish educator and internationally known Judaic needlework designer. His paternal grandfather was born in Germany. His maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother were born in Ukraine. His maternal grandmother's family probably came from northeastern Europe, but they have lost all their immigration data.
As a youth, Joe was active in haBonim, the labor Zionist youth movement. He spent many summers at their Camp Tavor in Three Rivers, Michigan, and a year on Kibbutz Urim in Israel.