Israeli Muslim couple hosts hundreds at their ‘Sukkah of Hope’

Dr. Khalil Bakly welcoming guests to his "Sukkah of Peace" (Photo: courtesy Bakly family)

During the holiday of Sukkot, an Arab-Israeli Muslim couple built a large sukkah — traditionally only done by Jews — on their terrace and invited the public to come and enjoy live music, eat kosher and Arab cuisine and to engage in meaningful conversation.

In a remarkable expression of love and reconciliation, Khalil and Reem Bakly, both doctors living in Upper Nazareth, opened their sukkah and more than 1,200 people visited during the feast.

“I see every day that we have a lot of social problems in common as citizens of Israel, and I think it’s the right place and the right time to put our hands together to solve them,” Khalil Bakly told reporters regarding why a Muslim couple would build a sukkah.

Khalil is a dentist with practices in Netanya and Nazareth. Most of his staff and patients are Jewish. Reem is a maxillofacial surgeon at a hospital in Haifa. Their jobs place both of them in continual contact with both Jews and Arabs in their communities.

“We believe that respect is mutual, that listening and understanding are the basis for a shared existence,” the Baklys wrote in invitations to their “Sukkah of Hope,” published in both Hebrew and Arab language newspapers.

The couple hired caterers and decorators and had an Orthodox Jew oversee the construction of the sukkah to ensure it met the required standard.

Traditional Arab and catered kosher food served at the Baklys’ sukkah in Upper Nazareth. (Photo: courtesy Bakly family)
Traditional Arab and catered kosher food served at the Baklys’ sukkah in Upper Nazareth. (Photo: courtesy Bakly family)

“The chef who prepared the food estimated that we had between 1,200 and 1,500 over the course of the three days,” Khalil Bakly told Israel 21c. “Many were from Netanya and Upper Nazareth, and we had visitors from all over Israel — Jerusalem, Rishon LeZion, Rehovot, Ness Ziona, Haifa, Tivon — who heard me interviewed in the media and decided to come and see what we’re doing.”

Among the visitors from various faiths were professionals from diverse fields as well as journalists and the Jewish mayor of Upper Nazareth who came with two Arab deputy mayors.

“What is important is that we’re human. I have Christian and Jewish friends and we all respect one another,” Khalil Bakly said. “We should look at what each does to help his community, not his religion or where he comes from or the color of his skin.”