Messianic congregations scramble to comply with new Israeli rules on coronavirus

(Photo: Facebook/Anadolu Agency)

In order to comply with new Ministry of Health directives designed to halt the spread of coronavirus, Messianic congregations are moving to home groups, adding services or offering video streaming of their meetings in place of weekly services.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people, specifically mentioning synagogues, conferences and even weddings.

“We’re asking, if there is no need for conferences, if there is no need for events, don’t hold them and don’t go to them,” Netanyahu said.

Israel had been proactive in implementing restrictions designed to slow the contagious virus, including a drastic requirement that anyone entering the country — Israelis and foreigners alike — put themselves into a 14-day quarantine, a policy which went into effect this week. 

The Ministry of Health had previously banned gatherings of more than 2,000 people until Wednesday when that number was dramatically reduced to just 100 people effectively shuttering synagogues, theaters and small festivals. 

While many Messianic congregations in Israel host fewer than 100 members at their weekly services, the ones with more had to scramble to decide how to adjust their schedules before the weekend.

Kehila News spoke with several congregations with 100-plus members to find out how they are dealing with the new policies. 

Meno Kalisher, pastor of Jerusalem Assembly House of Redemption, said the congregation canceled all midweek activities for a few weeks and will provide two services on Saturday instead of one in the hopes of having fewer people in each.

“The sick and elderly will be advised not to come,” Kalisher said. “If needed, we will have three services. Naturally, some people will decide not to come to a public meeting anyway at this time, so it will reduce the total number in each meeting.”

Kalisher said they will not serve the usual refreshments either “in order to reduce the chance for viral contamination.”

The congregation, where about 400 people worship, already had the “sad and unpleasant” situation of turning away 30 tourists who were in Israel less than 14 days and had not been quarantined according to Ministry of Health requirements, Kalisher said. 

Other congregations affected include four that are part of the King of Kings Community. 

“At the moment it appears that the most recent restrictions are twofold that are impacting many of our congregational campuses,” said Chad Holland, senior pastor. “First, restricting those that have traveled in the past 14 days from entering into the congregation at all, regardless of what country they have traveled to. Second, restricting the size of the gathering to under 100 people.”

For the King of Kings congregations that have more than 100 people, Holland said on-site services would be canceled and congregants would be encouraged to “continue to meet in our strong, small-group system that is already in place.”

The main service of King of Kings Community Jerusalem will be available online and will take place on site, however with only essential staff and personnel in attendance. Other members and visitors will be encouraged to meet in their regular “Community Groups,” Holland added. 

The Community Groups and all of the 12 congregations in the network will still enforce the 14-day quarantine after travel and, Holland said, “will discourage anyone with symptoms of illness from attending and encourage all attendees to wash their hands as they enter, preparing hand sanitizer and hand washing stations at the door.”

Tiferet Yeshua in Tel Aviv also falls under the new restrictions with some 150 to 200 people in attendance each week. 

“We decided to ask the congregation members to sign up for the service, so we can limit it to 100 people,” Senior Pastor Gil Afriat said. “We livestream our service on Facebook so those who cannot (or do not want to) come can join us online.”

In Tiberias, the Peniel congregation of more than 300 people, will not meet for the regular Saturday service at all in its usual building. Daniel Yahav told KNI that the Shabbat meeting will take place strictly in home group settings instead.

An elder from Tents of Mercy in the Haifa area had already sent a message to congregation members encouraging people to stay updated with Ministry of Health directives, for instance those to whom quarantine applies to follow through with the 14-day period.

With just fewer than 100 people, the congregation expects to meet as usual, but with added precautions such as stocking up on hand sanitizers at the entrance of the building and recommending that the elderly or those who are immune-comprised to stay at home. 

“Because of that, we as leaders will make extra effort to be in touch with them and visit as possible so they don’t feel isolated,” the elder told KNI. “We still feel it is important to meet and encourage one another. We respect and honor the directives from the Ministry of Health, so if the directives change we’ll find other solutions instead of a large group Shabbat service.”

Messianic conferences have also fallen victim to the ban on gatherings. The Excellence Forum, geared toward local business and ministry leaders here in Israel, was set to take place later this month in Netanya. That and several other conferences involving locals and speakers from overseas have also been canceled or postponed indefinitely.