The Arty Semite

Toronto Deli Sponsors Palestinian Film Fest

By Michael Kaminer

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It seemed like a great publicity stunt: Just as the conflict in the Middle East started boiling over, Caplansky’s Deli announced its sponsorship of September’s Toronto Palestinian Film Festival.

Except Zane Caplansky, the deli’s owner, inked the deal months ago. And while he expected some backlash, the war’s escalation has cast an outsized spotlight on his support of the tiny film fest in Canada’s largest city.

“This was not some grand political statement,” Caplansky told the Forward from Toronto. “I’m not taking sides. I have no agenda other than community building, cross-cultural understanding, and a nice gesture for this film festival.”

Caplansky said he reached out to festival organizers In January. “I was doing some work with an organization called Action Against Hunger. One of their staffers mentioned TPFF. I had no idea it even existed,” he said.

“We sponsor the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, along with other arts events in and around our neighborhood, so this seemed like a nice thing to do,” Caplansky added. “It’s the only sponsorship I’ve ever offered — usually people come and ask.”

TPFF bills itself as “a volunteer-run, non-profit organization dedicated to bringing Palestinian cinema, music, cuisine and art to [greater Toronto] audiences.” The Toronto Star reported on the sponsorship after Caplansky posted a brief Facebook note about it. A deluge of comments followed.

“A few people have called to express their disagreement, outrage, whatever,” he said. “People are floating an email that says something like, ‘Never eat at Caplansky’s again.’ Some are using the word ‘boycott’. I’m hearing that I’m a self-hating Jew, Jew-hater, Israel-basher. I’m shocked. I didn’t expect this kind of controversy. But the restaurant’s busy, and I’m not really bothered by it. If we lose some customers, we’ll probably gain some new ones. My business will survive.”

The deli’s busy Facebook page seems to bear that out. A few vitriolic posts — “I can count about 30 regulars you have lost permanently,” claimed one — have been vastly outnumbered by messages of support. “A true mensch,” wrote one. “Wonderful gesture,” exclaimed another. “You guys are heroes,” kvelled a commenter.

As part of the sponsorship, Caplansky will supply the film festival with one of his signature blue-and-white food trucks, emblazoned with the slogan, “Sometimes you just have to Jew it up,” the Star reported. During the outdoor screening of “Laila’s Birthday,” a dark comedy by Palestinian director Rashid Masharawi, Caplansky’s will offer menu favorites including smoked meat sandwiches, barbecue brisket, smoked meat poutine, and maple beef bacon donuts, the Star said.

Reached for comment, a TPFF spokesperson told the Forward by email that she was “on holiday, with limited internet access.”


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