Following multi-year closure, 150-year-old Wilmington temple now receiving restoration

Half a million dollars have been raised to restore the Temple of Israel, with doors planned to reopen in mid-summer.
Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 8:45 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Although residing in a city home to many historic landmarks, Wilmington residents may be unfamiliar with one key piece of religious and architectural history.

The Temple of Israel is North Carolina’s oldest Jewish house of worship that is still in continuous use, and it’s getting some much needed upgrades.

The temple shut down in 2020 after an inspection found the space to be unsafe for visitors, with most of its damage stemming from Hurricane Florence in 2018.

The goal is to reopen the temple’s doors before the High Holy Days in September.

In 2021, they launched a fundraiser to raise the money needed to make the repairs. Half a million dollars were needed, and work soon began after that goal was met.

Funds are still being raised for future maintenance, since maintaining a 150-year-old building isn’t an easy feat.

This Wilmington landmark, located at the intersection of Market and 4th streets, is a very special place for the Jewish community in Wilmington.

“When I’m praying in here, the environment is great. As I say, this was the only building, so we had our meetings here, we had classes in this building and everything was done in this building. So this was the Temple of Israel to me,” said Bob Fetterman, who has attended the temple for 23 years.

In addition to its historical importance as a place of worship, the temple is also one of the few Moorish Revival-style structures remaining from the 19th century in the United States.

During restoration, crews found old ballast stones in the temple’s original foundation, believed to have been used by ships that navigated the Cape Fear River. These stones were used to weigh down the ships, preventing them from capsizing.

The half a million-dollar restoration consists of repairing the roof, tackling moisture and mold issues, restoring the foundation, repairing and maintaining the stained-glass windows and other projects that will keep this 150-year-old building standing for years to come.

“Of course, it’s a very old building, it was started in 1872 and it’s now our responsibility to maintain it. In 150 years from now, hopefully it will still be able to be enjoyed by the Jewish community in Wilmington,” said Joshua Heinberg, president of the Temple of Israel.