In a pickleIn a pickle

Toronto deli pushes peace by pastrami

Celebrity chef Zane Caplansky’s decision to sponsor a Palestinian film festival draws ire

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Toronto deli man Zane Caplansky plans to sponsor an event at the Toronto Palestine Film Festival. (Courtesy)
Toronto deli man Zane Caplansky plans to sponsor an event at the Toronto Palestine Film Festival. (Courtesy)

Has high-profile Toronto Jewish delicatessen owner Zane Caplansky gotten himself in to a pickle for sponsoring an upcoming event at the Toronto Palestine Film Festival?

Caplansky doesn’t think so. But he acknowledges he will lose some customers over his decision to “make lox, not war” and help Jews and Palestinians “see rye to rye,” as recent Toronto media headlines have characterized his cross-cultural efforts.

The deli owner, who has become a Canadian celebrity chef since opening Caplansky’s Delicatessen on Toronto’s College Street six years ago, committed three months ago to sending his food truck out on August 8 to the outdoor screening of “Laila’s Birthday,” a dark comedy by Palestinian director Rashid Masharawi.

“Then the war happened and people started posting a lot of brutal and nasty stuff on social media,” says Caplansky.

“I posted on Facebook that I was sponsoring the Toronto Palestine Film Festival and things went crazy. I’m really shocked by the response, both positive and negative. I really didn’t think it was such a big deal.”

Caplansky, 46, is adamant that the many emails he has received calling him a self-hating Jew and accusing him of demonizing Israel will not deter him from following through on his commitment to sell his signature items, like smoked meat sandwiches, smoked meat poutine and maple beef bacon donuts, from his food truck and donating the profits (10 percent of revenue) to the Palestinian festival.

“Look, I’m not stupid. I know my business is recognized as being Jewish, and that this act of cross-cultural support might surprise some people,” he says.

“But not all Jews and Palestinians hate each other. This war situation is heartbreaking and I want to see the fighting stop. Violence just begets violence.”

Caplansky, who describes himself as “anti-war” and “pro-peace,” says he is shocked and embarrassed that members of the local community have reacted so negatively to his gesture of compassion and tolerance.

“Toronto celebrates its diversity. We have a large Jewish community and also large Palestinian and Arab populations, and we usually get along well, and better than in other Canadian cities,” he says.

Caplansky wants to see Jews and Palestinians breaking bread together instead of attacking one another.

“This is how you build community. By sitting and eating together around a table,” he says.

Rather in this case, it will be by picnicking together at Christie Pits Park two weeks from now.

“If people have one of my sandwiches and a bowl of popcorn and watch a movie together, it can only be a positive thing,” he says.

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