The Morning Star Messianic Fellowship in Tiberias was established in the early 90s at I time when Israel was experiencing an influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Many of these new olim, or immigrants, had come to know the Lord of Israel in their home country but when they settled in Tiberias, on the shores of the beautiful Sea of Galilee, they needed a new spiritual home.
This fact was not lost on Messianic believer Claude Ezagouri, who, himself, had arrived in Israel in 1975, after living in France for 13 years. Claude felt called by God to start a fellowship that would serve this new and growing Russian-speaking community and thus, the Morning Star Fellowship was born.
Ezagouri was born into a Sephardic Jewish family in Algeria. In 1962, when Algeria became an independent state, he joined other French-speaking nationals and moved to France, where he lived until making aliyah, immigration to Israel, with his wife, Michelle, who were ardent Zionists at the time.
While the couple was living on a kibbutz, Ezagouri began searching for the truth and was drawn to Eastern religions and transcendental meditation. Ten years after arriving in Israel, he accepted Yeshua after listening to a teaching on Isaiah 53 being broadcast from a Lebanese Christian radio station.
Ezagouri’s new faith in Yeshua was not well received by Michelle, who struggled with it for two years before accepting herself, at a time when the couple was close to a divorce. The Lord spoke to Claude, telling him to leave the kibbutz which, he said, was difficult because at that time anyone who left, left with nothing.
The couple left the kibbutz and settled in Tiberias. Some time later, God led Ezagouri to reach out and evangelize to Russian Jewish immigrants, many of whom subsequently accepted. He and Michelle then formed a home bible study group with up to 30 attendees.
After numerous evangelistic campaigns to Jewish brothers in 1990, all the while, being careful not to attract the attention of the large Jewish Orthodox community, the Lord called him to begin and to pastor Morning Star Fellowship in the city.
“Our aim is to build bridges… to build bridges of understanding and support, in a spirit of reconciliation, between Believers (both Jewish and Arab) in the Holy Land (Israel and the Palestinian Areas) and Christians worldwide,” Ezagouri said in an interview with Kehila News.
The fellowship, in its early stages, met at the Scots Church in Tiberias. This location eventually led to a backlash from the Orthodox Jewish community, which would routinely set fire to the door of the church until the priest set up a large cross in the doorway and the rabbis, believing that no Jew would step over a cross, stopped their harassment. Eventually, God led Ezagouri to move the congregation.
The Lord directed him to buy a building and they found an abandoned theater in the center of town for sale. When they tried to purchase the building, the local rabbis told the sellers they would be cursed if they sold it to Ezagouri.
After a prayer march 7 times around the block by members of the congregation, the owners decided to sell to Morning Star anyway and they were able to raise the money to buy it.
“However, the building itself needed a lot of work to make it usable and the city continued to cause delays with the building permit. This went on for nine years but I never lost hope because God told me we would get it,” Ezagouri shared.
A group of Christians from China visited Tiberias and requested six full days of 24/7 prayer for a breakthrough. “The next day we got the permit,” Ezagouri said. To remember this miracle, once a year the fellowship meets for six consecutive days for 24/7 prayer.
“Our fellowship continues to be watched by the non-believing community and, therefore, it is important that we reflect Yeshua; to “prepare the way of the Lord and show that Yeshua loves the Jewish people.”
One way that Morning Star does this is by voluntarily cleaning up the city “in order to show that Yeshua is a servant to the Jewish people.” While doing this service, they intentionally wear fellowship t-shirts and are ready to answer any questions from those passing by.
Morning Star’s Andrey Levin leads live worship during the services “rather than using recorded music,” and said the services are often attended by visitors from other countries.
“We put ourselves on the altar to worship in spirit and in truth, believing that in the future we will see even greater things that the Lord will do in the Galilee in Yeshua’s name,” Levin said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, because Tiberias is a tourism center, many of the younger members were unfortunately forced to leave for other cities such as Haifa and Tel Aviv for employment, according to Ezagouri.
Morning Star, however, continues to reach out to the residents of Tiberias to share their faith and continue to make disciples. They and their Christian guests sometimes worship for several days on the streets wearing fellowship t-shirts and reaching out to the locals.
Ezagouri said they have seen a recent influx of new immigrants from Russia and Ukraine this year that they are continuing to reach out to. While Israeli law forbids gift-giving as a form of evangelism, the congregation does hold special evenings that include gifts and games.
The congregation also rents a store in the city center which they keep stocked with clothes, and household items including children’s toys, most of which are second-hand, all of which are given out for free to those in need.
Morning Star is currently providing assistance to about 140 people.
The fellowship, along with the humanitarian aid organization, Joseph Project, has begun an initiative to provide food packages to the city’s needy residents.
“This is a long-term project but we want to show our faith through our behavior and heart for the population. We are certain that it will bear fruit in due time. Bringing people to the Lord is a long-term process.”
“It is in our hearts to build a strong network of relationships with local congregations of Arab speakers, Russian speakers, and English speakers. To build a network of worship teams, a network of worshipers,” said Ezagouri.
“We meet several times a month, and we just serve God, we search for His face. We don’t want these things for us but for Him. We dedicate our time and ourselves and come before Him and open up to Him and we want to know what is in His heart.”
The goal, he says, is to prepare for the great revival of the last days by first of all, seeing “the face of God through prayer and worship; and through teachings and discipleship, and to build unity in the Body of Messiah through outreach to other nations.”
Ezagouri says the fellowship is open to both physical and spiritual support and welcomes all to come visit.
For more information, go to Morning Star Fellowship.