Two local congregations on anonymous $10k donation list

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Anyone who has ever received a “You may already be a winner” letter will recognize the dream of receiving a sudden windfall from out of nowhere. 

But for Shir Hadash, it came true – to the tune of more than $10,000.

“Lo and behold, there is this letter with a check,” Rabbi Lane Steinger of Shir Hadash said. “It is a wonderful thing and totally unexpected.”

The money may have come out of the blue, but it does have a story behind it, if a rather unusual one. The cash comes from an organization called Chai Minded, which is headed by an anonymous philanthropist who is thought to quietly attend services at various synagogues around the nation. If that person likes what he or she sees, the organization receives a no-strings-attached grant in a multiple of Chai. The current amount is $10,188 – the size of the check Steinger’s synagogue received.


At present, 126 Jewish houses of worship are listed on the group’s website as recipients of Chai Minded’s largess spanning the nation from Alaska to Florida. Along with Shir Hadash, three Missouri synagogues are on the list, including one in St. Joseph and another in Jefferson City. The only other St. Louis area institution mentioned is Kol Rinah, a recently merged University City synagogue. Leadership there said they were not aware of the group’s initiative or of having yet received any check, but because they are listed, they say perhaps they’ll receive one soon.

Communications with the mystery philanthropist take place primarily through the group’s website, A message posted there Aug. 8 from Steinger gave thanks for his gift, which he said would mean a lot to the small congregation of fewer than 50 members.

“Nowadays, congregations are beset and besieged with criticism – not all of it constructive – on every front,” he wrote. “It is heartening and refreshing to know that there are those for whom the synagogue still is considered the bedrock of Jewish life – and who do something positive and constructive about it!”

Chai Minded responded with a message three days later.

“Thank you, Rabbi Steinger,” it said. “From looking at your website, it is clear that Shir Hadash is doing a great job serving its community. I particularly like the ‘In Our Own Words’ page. More synagogues should do this.”

Allen Karlin, president of Shir Hadash, said he didn’t know the reason for the gift. There is no application process. The money simply arrives.

“On the website, he talks about how each synagogue is unique and provides a spiritual haven and comforting community for guests,” Karlin said. “We’d like to think that it is because we are very warm and very welcoming to anybody who comes in our doors.”

Use of the funds is at the synagogue’s discretion. Shir Hadash leadership said the money will be used to increase engagement and grow membership.