Two years ago, Erin Zimmerman found herself far from home in war-torn Kurdistan hearing a harrowing story of how innocent people were subjected to the worst kind of evil.
It was there that Zimmerman heard a Kurdish man recount his experience saving kidnapped women who were held captive by ISIS.
“I just heard terrible stories,” Zimmerman recalled. “When I sat down and interviewed Abdullah he told us stories that were so bad, my translator had to leave to take a cigarette break.”
Those stories and more were featured in her latest documentary for the Christian Broadcasting Network: To Life, How Israeli Volunteers are Changing the World. Released in time for Israeli’s 70th Independence Day last May, the film showcases five of the country’s organizations that are helping repair the world.
While each organization helps people in distress, not all stories were as somber and disturbing as the ones she heard in Kurdistan – the story of IsraAID, for example, is inspirational and shows how good can triumph over evil.
Off the shores of Lesbos, Greece, IsraAID volunteers healed and cared for not only strangers – but people who would be considered an enemy under any other circumstances.
That’s because the volunteers were Israeli – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – who were all united in one singular mission: to be a light unto the nations and lead by example.
“The doctors were almost all female. They got along so well and did way more than what was expected of them. If you see these girls, they were taking time to hug and comfort people,” Zimmerman said. “One of the doctors told me, ‘70 years ago, this was us. We were on a boat trying to come home and nobody would help us. So it’s our responsibility to help others.’”
Whether it be a beleaguered refugee in Greece or a Palestinian child in need of a heart transplant, the lives of the people being helped are forever transformed. For Zimmerman, it caused some introspection on her part as well.
“It shines a light on your life. [Filming the movie] made me stop and say, ‘Wow. This is pure love,’” she marveled. “If you are an Israeli, you’re technically at war with Syria and they are the enemy.”
However, the tenacity, courage and kindness of the volunteers allowed them overlook that and see these people for who they were: scared humans in desperate need for help.
Rather than focusing on an Israel engulfed in conflict, To Life tells the untold story of Israel as the beacon of innovation and humanitarian aid. It is a story not often told in the press today.
“There is not so much positive press about Israel. My boss [CBN CEO Gordon Robertson] and I have similar ideas but a different motivation. He’s very focused on combating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, but my thought process isn’t that intricate. It’s more, ‘This is a great story, let’s tell it.’”
“I was really impressed by the people I met and captured on camera. It made me feel really small, i saw these great things but then I went home to comfort at night,” she said. “I met so many millennials doing amazing things and nobody told them to.”
Although Zimmerman was at the helm of three other CBN movies prior to this one, her career in directing is a rather recent one. After spending 20 years in television production, Robertson encouraged her to try her hand at directing CBN’s first movie, Made in Israel. That film, which was made for television, was so well-received that requests were made for it to be available on DVD.
Now Zimmerman directs roughly one movie every two years for the network. However, she still feels that she has much to learn and often relies on other members of the crew to steer her in the right direction.
“I’ve had a lot of on-the-job training. I’ve done a lot of reading on the Internet, learned from coworkers and my excellent production company here in Israel. If you want to succeed, hire people smarter than you,” she joked.
“I always like to tell people what they don’t know,” Zimmerman said of her film making philosophy. “With To Life, you see Israelis doing amazing work. We’ve tried to figure out why and ask questions why they do it and we get these wonderful answers. ‘We’re supposed to be.’ Or ‘God made us this way.’ From secular and religious alike, it’s amazing to hear.”
This article was written in cooperation with the Christian Broadcasting Network.