Blame Canada

While the title of director Igal Hecht’s 2003 documentary “Y.I.D.” might offend some Jewish viewers, the content of the film should prove far more disturbing.

An acronym for “Yehudeem in Diaspora,” Hecht’s 71-minute film explores the frosty relationship between Israeli expatriates and native-born Canadian Jews living in Toronto.

Despite their common Jewish heritage, the two groups barely interact, with Israelis stubbornly maintaining their own separate identity — much like any other emigre community — leaving their Canadian cousins hurt and insulted.

“Y.I.D.” will screen as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

The film begins not in Ontario but on the streets of Jerusalem, at the scene of a horrific terrorist attack. Thus Hecht provides the backstory as to why 50,000 Israelis would move to Canada in a new diaspora (Toronto’s Jewish population today exceeds 175,000).

Drawing on rapid-fire interviews with Canadians and Israelis speaking English and Hebrew, Hecht depicts both groups maintaining their mutual prejudices. His subjects include college students, Orthodox rabbis, shopkeepers and Jewish community officials. The Israelis are “pushy, loud, blunt, always with a cigarette in their mouths,” say the Canadians; the Canadians are “not very passionate,” reply the Israelis.

As portrayed by Hecht, Toronto’s Israeli ex-pats are indeed caught between two worlds. They have left their homeland (a move seen as abandoning Israel), yet they don’t fit easily into the Canadian lifestyle. Being either completely secular or Orthodox, they also don’t relate to the North American tradition of synagogue-as-social-enclave, thus steering clear of the central meeting place for Jews.

Israelis in Toronto — as in some other communities — have their own distinct social scene, complete with Israeli music and dance events. Even at a local university, Jewish students are unofficially divided between Israelis and North Americans. It’s almost as if Jews in Toronto have built their own invisible separation barrier.

One fascinating exchange occurs between Canadian Jews too frightened to visit Israel (this was filmed at the height of the current intifada in 2002) and Israelis condemning them for it. One surly Israeli youth says anyone who would avoid visiting the Jewish state at its time of greatest need “is not really a Jew.”

Just as the film starts to build a head of steam, “Y.I.D.” inexplicably morphs into a meditation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hecht intercuts scenes of competing pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli rallies in Toronto with travelogue images of popular Israeli sites, such as the Kotel, all set to an oddly-out-of-place reggae soundtrack.

The film’s climax (if the term applies) comes at a massive 2002 pro-Israel rally in Ottawa, ostensibly showing Canadian Jewry’s solidarity with Israel.

That’s nice. But what has that to do with the impasse between the two Jewish communities back in Toronto? Essentially nothing.

Hecht ends his film with a dedication: “For Israel Now and Forever.” This is a worthy sentiment, but seems uncomfortably partisan and off the subject. “Y.I.D.” might be worth seeing for the pure sociology of its subject, but its failure to stay on point probably guarantees “also-ran” status at any film festivals it may be entered in.

“Y.I.D.” screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F. Tickets: $7. Information: (415) 978-ARTS or

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.