Written by: Jen Bokoff, Honeymoon Israel Chicago, December 2019

Kari Parekh and David Pell had planned on frequent support from family and friends once they had their first child. Then coronavirus hit, and baby Kaden arrived in the thick of it. Plans were called off. The HMI community became more important to them than they had ever imagined.

David grew up Jewish and Kari grew up Hindu. Neither considers themself religious, but the community and familial aspects of religion always resonated. On their trip to Israel, they specifically enjoyed the group conversations, which David said “helped us to think about what we want to pass along to our children.” They hadn’t expected so much continued connection with the group upon their return to Chicago, and have been overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the ways the HMI community has been there. “Our HMI community feels like family, especially when we can’t have family with us during this time,” Kari shared.

On Sunday, April 19, the couple joined more than 100 others in a group baby naming, where their son Kaden received the name Nuchem in honor of David’s grandfather. While Kari never met David’s grandfather, she said “he lives in our family and in my heart. Giving his name to Kaden is a way to pay tribute to him and tie their destinies together.” David added, “It connects him to his family that he never knew. As he grows up, it will help him know the story of why he’s here.” The naming ceremony was even more special because they were able to share the online link with each of their families.

The community support began before the naming. The couple’s trip cohort set up a meal train to take care of dinners in the weeks following Kaden’s birth, and a cohort member who lives nearby and also recently gave birth shared some post-maternity clothes. Kari also took advantage of the financial support offered by HMI in support of Jewish experiences, and said that the friends she made through JBaby have been a critical part of her support network during this time. “The monetary support gives you the push to try things you might not otherwise. In this case, joining this group was a godsend. The other moms and I are all navigating this strange time together. We’re even sharing a nanny with one of them. Stephanie [HMI Chicago’s Director of Community Engagement] has also been unbelievably supportive, and the quality of resources she has shared has meant the world to us.”

For David, finding a community outside of a temple environment was exactly what he hoped for. Kari loves it too, sharing: “David’s parents make fun of me because they think I’ve leaned into the Jewish culture even more than he has. The values line up with my background and I’m hungry to learn more!”