Adapting in Crisis: Congregations in Israel Go Digital
By Estera Wieja
Can you imagine – some congregations in Israel have not been allowed to meet a single time since the pandemic started? Israel introduced its first restrictions in gatherings, which only got stricter over time, a year ago in March! It is hard to believe that Israeli families have not been allowed to worship in larger groups in so long.
Thankfully this year, especially since the end of February, Israel has seen some improvement in what the people can and cannot do. There is greater freedom of movement (we can freely visit national parks, for example). And smaller groups can meet yet again, mostly outdoors, and indoors with added conditions.
We are praying for more and more good news in that regard! You may wonder, what has all of this meant for congregations? For ministry staff and for pastors?
Leading an Israeli Congregation in 2020 and Beyond
Have the congregations been able to continue their work? The short answer is… “sort of”. So, let us give you a longer answer instead. Hopefully, this will inspire you to pray for your brothers and sisters in Israel with more clarity and greater understanding.
The lockdowns have triggered a sense of fear and hopelessness in many households. Aware of these needs, most congregations in Israel were swift in moving their initiatives online. Once they realized this was not a temporary situation, they searched out ways to improve the quality of their media.
The Morning Star Congregation in Tiberias has been able to film their services and put them online. All the while they still hosted a limited number of people on location, following the restrictions. More recently, that number increased which is encouraging. With two floors available, they decided to host children as well, for a sense of community.
When a Congregation Comes to You
Zoom has not been a practical solution for this congregation in the Galilee. Many elderly either don’t have access to Zoom or simply don’t know how to use it. We may not even realize how harmful this season has been to the older generation, not just because of the health threats. But even more so because of loneliness and isolation.
Pastor Claude Ezagouri and his team put a lot of effort into visiting the needy, whenever possible. During stricter lockdowns, they made sure to keep in regular communication with them. They see it as extremely important to listen to their hearts, bring some counsel and perhaps practical solutions.
A congregation in Haifa, Kerem El, also did their utmost to support their community. Kerem El lacked the appropriate equipment to livestream their services. FIRM (Fellowship of Israel Ministries) supporters have enabled Kerem-El to purchase necessary filming equipment to produce high quality videos in Hebrew. And through that, they developed a dependable online presence.
Can God save lives through the internet?
We want to share and celebrate with you a testimony that happened last year. Yoel (name changed) was a 20-year-old atheist and a drug addict in Israel. During the early lockdowns, Yoel attempted suicide. But he felt like Someone’s presence saved him from harm, and thus saved his life.
This set Yoel on a journey to find meaning – and that journey brought him to God. He started watching videos about Yeshua (Jesus) and quickly realized that Yeshua was indeed his Messiah! Searching for more, Yoel found online services from the Kerem-El Congregation and started watching them regularly.
Praise God that Kerem-El was able to shift their ministry to a digital platform, so that someone like Yoel could receive spiritual food online. After several months, Yoel contacted Kerem-El and is now being discipled. We are humbled by how God used the internet to save this man, who is one of many!
Congregations in Israel Learn to Move with the Times
Pivoting outreach and community engagement to digital was an endeavor many leaders were not prepared for. But given the resources, they were ready to make it happen. By equipping and providing training to minister to their communities from digital platforms, FIRM has seen lives changed by the Gospel all over Israel.
The internet brought about a newfound creativity and a different type of closeness. The Body of Messiah in Israel remains strong today and counts on your support.
While we have seen that zoom meetings enables us to stay in touch during the hard lockdowns, the truth is that it can never replace coming together as a community of believers to worship and serve Yeshua together as one. Internet has its function e.g. some of our members would have to travel 40-50 minutes to attend and have been doing so. However, when not possible, they can link up and still remain part of the community. But, in the midst of the turbulence of our current times, nothing can really replace face to face meetings. Another alternative is for smaller groups to gather for midweek meetings in their localities while maintaining all the necessary protocols. We meet at our home in the northern suburbs every Wednesday evening for our FFOZ Torah Club and it is a blessing. However, we still attend our services every erev Shabbat and Shabbat morning.