Shalom Life | September 25, 2014

Zane Caplansky in Hot Water After Deciding to Sponsor Palestinian Film Festival

The Toronto-based celebrity chef, and noted pastrami enthusiast, wants to "make lox, not war"

By: Daniel Koren

Published: July 28th, 2014 in Business » World

During my interview with noted deli enthusiast Zane Caplansky last year, he struck me as the quintessential Jewish chef of Toronto's flourishing Yid-inspired food scene.

I mean, his entire restaurant is crawling with Jewish paraphernalia and links to his Jewish heritage, from naming a new signature beverage 'the Jewmosa' to naming the sports team he sponsors 'the Bad News Jews.'

"Jewish people have a lot to be proud of," he told me. "Especially when it comes to our food."

So when I heard that Caplansky (he changed his name from 'Caplan' because "it wasn't Jewish enough") was sponsoring the Toronto Palestine Film Festival, I quickly assumed that the quirky celebrity chef was making an effort to promote peace through pastrami.

But, naturally, I also anticipated that he would receive a great heap of criticism for deciding to make such an effort on the heels of the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel.

Just like when people freaked out when Brooklyn-based Jewish Orthodox designers Mimu Maxi enlisted a Muslim fashion blogger to try out one of their outfits as rockets were raining down on Israel from Hamas terrorists, people have been sensitive to Caplansky's decision to support Palestinians during these difficult times.

On the one hand, their criticism is understandable. But on the other? There is nothing wrong - in theory - with supporting Palestinians in Toronto - a haven for multiculturalism - in an effort to blur the lines between Jews and Arabs, and to demonstrate to the world that we can all live in harmony and peace.

I want to "make lox, not war," Caplansky said about his decision, adding that he wants to help Jews and Palestinians see "rye to rye."

Caplansky, owner of Caplansky's Delicatessen (near College and Spadina in Toronto) since it opened in 2008, had confirmed months ago that he'd be sending his food truck to the August 8th screening of Lailas's Birthday, a dark comedy directed by Palestinian Rashid Masharawi.

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

The 46-year-old has since received a heap of critical emails calling him a self-hating Jew, though the post did receive several positive comments as well: “The path to peace is through breaking bread … with spicy mustard and pastrami,” said one.

“I want to make it known that my business, which is identified as a Jewish business, is absolutely supporting Palestinian causes,” he said to the Toronto Star. “That would maybe make Palestinians understand that it’s not black and white, and maybe make Jewish people understand that it’s not black and white.”

The "anti-war," "pro-peace" Caplansky will be selling his signature dishes at the Film Festival, including smoked meat sandwiches, smoked meat poutines and maple beef bacon donuts. Ten percent of the proceeds will go to the Festival.

“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 said, just days after a bus shelter was vandalized with anti-Israel expletives in Thornhill.

“This is how you build community,"said Caplansky. "By sitting and eating together around a table.”

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