WILMINGTON, N.C. — The Temple of Israel in downtown Wilmington is the oldest synagogue in the state, but its members say the 145-year-old building is in desperate need of repair.

They want to restore it, not only for the congregation, but for the many tourists and historians who visit the Wilmington area for its rich history and make the temple a stop on their tour. Each year, members hold an annual fundraiser that sells traditional Jewish food to people who appreciate the cuisine and the culture.

This year, they're putting the money toward the $400,000 in repairs needed for the temple.

“I said 'You only sell sandwiches. Why don't you sell by the pound?'” says Shai Abisch, the man organizing this year's fundraiser. “People want to buy by the pound, half a pound, it's more money, more sales.”

Unfortunately, even with the expansion, the money raised won't come anywhere close to meeting that expense, but Abisch has done everything he can to make this fundraiser bigger and more successful than ever. He's retired from a career in food service and thought that with his know-how and some plucky volunteers, they could expand the menu to offer a whole assortment of Jewish food that people can't find locally.

“I guess I'm crazy to do it,” says Abisch.  “I've been retired for three years, I guess I'm too bored. So I volunteered, never did I know what I was volunteering for.”

Even though they were hoping for a large turnout, he was floored at the number of orders that poured in at the last minute. Over the span of five days, he found himself and his makeshift assembly line filling nearly 500 different orders for thousands of items.

“Probably figured maybe 200 will order,” Abisch says. “Because of the pandemic, nobody will and then boom it exploded.”

Nevertheless, he's grateful for the outpouring of support the community has shown as people unite around a shared love of food and work together to save a historical treasure.

“Some lady called me from a church she said 'You know I'm Catholic, but I like the food?' and I said 'I don't care, we sell it to anybody, we appreciate your support, it doesn't matter if you're Catholic, or whatever you are,'” says Abisch.