Temple of Israel—the Oldest Synagogue in North Carolina

Temple of Israel

On May 12, 1876, North Carolina’s first Jewish synagogue, the Temple of Israel, was dedicated in Wilmington. The Jews of Wilmington were part of the second wave of immigrants who arrived in the United States from Germany, and they worked primarily as artisans, merchants, and storekeepers. In 1855, Jews set aside a Hebrew section of Oakdale Cemetery in the city. As the community grew in the mid-1800s, the Jews in the area began to need a house of worship.

The initial plans for a synagogue were interrupted by the Civil War. About 40 families came together in 1872 to set plans for the church. Soon after they affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. A local chapter of B’nai B’rith, a Jewish service organization, was founded in 1874. Samuel Sloan of Philadelphia was retained as the architect and plans were developed for a distinctive building in the Moorish Revival style. Construction began in 1875 and was completed the next year.

Rabbi Samuel Mendelsohn presided over the dedication in 1876. He went on to lead the Temple of Israel congregation until 1922. Eric Meyers, director of Duke University’s Center for Judaic Studies, said of the synagogue, “It represents one of the high points of Southern Jewish culture.”

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