With less than a week to go until the tense United States presidential elections, documentary filmmaker Maya Zinshtein hopes to shed light on the Evangelical Christian community that helped vote Donald Trump into the White House — a community that has a wealth of influence in Israel.
“We think this film helps answer the questions about Trump, and who elected him,” said Zinshtein.
The documentary, “‘Til Kingdom Come,” will be screened Wednesday, 9:15 p.m. on Israel’s Kan 11, along with screenings taking place across the US.
Emmy award-winning director Zinshtein, who produced the film with cinematographer Abraham (Abie) Troen, felt certain that the story of Evangelical Christian support for Israel was one that most Israelis weren’t familiar with, with regard to both its roots and its depth.
The 76-minute film is the result of Zinshtein and Troen’s deep dive into the world of Evangelical Christian support for Israel, showcasing eloquent pastors, giant Stars of David hung over crosses and the fascinating and unlikely political and financial bond between Evangelical Christians, Jews and Israelis.
As part of their research, Zinshtein and Troen spent three years traveling around the US with Yael Eckstein, the heir apparent to her father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder of the International Fellowship for Christians and Jews who died of a sudden heart attack in February 2019.
Eckstein, an American Jewish immigrant to Israel, helped to bring Evangelical Christians to Israel and raise more than $1.5 billion for Israel. It was his relationship, and now his daughter’s, with a rural Kentucky Christian community that helps Zinshtein shed light on the nature of the ties between Evangelical Christians and Israel.
“Yael and Yechiel are extremely compelling and it’s very clear that they’re one of the major players,” said Zinshtein.
Through the Ecksteins, Zinshtein and Troen met with their Kentucky donors, religious leaders Pastor William Boyd Bingham III and his son, Associate Pastor William Boyd Bingham IV, another father-child pair of extremely compelling characters whose congregation is among the Fellowship’s biggest fundraisers, despite being based in a poverty-stricken area that is riddled with drug addiction and crime.
Zinshtein said she liked and appreciated the Binghams despite their messianic rhetoric, their penchant for shooting practice and their belief, common among Evangelicals, that a series of horrific battles will wipe out two-thirds of the world’s Jews and the remaining third will convert before the Second Coming.
“The pastor was always laughing at himself as a hillbilly, but I was the total stranger, I didn’t know what hillbillies were,” said Zinshtein. “They couldn’t place me either, with my accent and background, so it was a fair relationship.”
The story could have continued on and on, said Troen, but “we needed to figure out when the exclamation point would come, when our story would end.”
They initially thought the film’s third and final act would be Trump moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which he had promised in his presidential campaign.
“Someone told me that if I was patient, Trump would move the US embassy to Israel,” said Zinshtein. “I thought that would be my third act, and it happened in my first act.”
The much-celebrated move of the US embassy to Jerusalem took place in May 2018 with a ceremony attended by a who’s who of the Evangelical Christian community. It was an “aha” moment for Zinshtein and Troen, and ended up leading the content of the film.
“It was a tool to explain the bigger picture,” Troen said.
The move was proof of concept that Evangelicals were a force affecting foreign policy toward Israel, noted Zinshtein.
Zinshtein and Troen instead used the final third of the film to look at the relationship between settler Jews and Evangelicals and the political maneuvering that has bearing on Israel’s annexation plans in the West Bank.
In addition to Kentucky, she and Troen traveled to San Antonio, Texas, to interview influential pastor John Hagee, and to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, where they met met Yael Eckstein for the first time — though that meeting ended up on the cutting room floor.
It was a privilege to be a progressive journalist telling a story about these intertwined communities while the left was trying to figure out how Trump got elected, said Troen.
Zinshtein said that the film is meant to appeal to a wide audience with its gaze at the power of religion and faith as a political tool.
“Whatever happens on November 3, the Evangelicals and the Bibles will remain, and the prophecy will remain,” said Troen. “The US elections is a moment in time, a culminating point where everyone is trying to figure out what’s going on.”
“‘Til Kingdom Comes” premiered at the DocAviv Festival, was screened online at the Chicago Film Festival and DOC NYC, and will be shown in Israel on Kan 11 prior to a broad release in the US.
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