The puppet show must go on at Tikvat Israel

Shaina (left) and Rachel Lipsy rehearse their Purim puppet show.
Photo by AJ Lanphere

Tikvat Israel Synagogue’s Purim puppet show began as a middle school community service requirement for sisters Rachel and Shaina Lipsy. It is now a major part of their lives.

“I started doing it because it counted for community service that we could get for school, and it was so much fun that I just never wanted to stop,” says Rachel, 31.
“Our mom was the director, and she always pulled us in every year because she needed extra characters.”

After their mom, Karen Lipsy, died last winter, the Lipsy sisters took over managing the show, which includes a recurring cast and crew. The puppeteers work from behind painted scenery while animating 4-foot-tall stick and papier mache puppets. Voice actors stand off to the side with microphones to do their parts.

“We’re all in each other’s business the whole time backstage,” says Shaina, 29. “Everyone is tripping over each other, helping each other during performances and reminding each other how to do the puppets. There’s no way to do it COVID- safe this year,” Shaina says.

So in December, Rachel came up with a way to continue Tikvat Israel’s Purim tradition.

“Rachel’s idea was to convert all the characters to sock puppets that she and I could puppet on our own with just the four hands between the two of us,” Shaina says.

Everyone who wanted to be involved made a sock puppet for the show.

During the Feb. 25 performance, the sisters will perform in front of a backdrop. A monitor connected to a webcam will let them see how the puppets appear to the audience.

The transition from in-person to Zoom did not come without challenges, but the Lipsy sisters found ways to work around them.

“Sometimes we have a scene with more than four characters in it, where people have to pop up and down really quickly. So we had to come up with a variety of ways to fix that. Some of it meant editing the script and changing how many puppets there are,” Shaina says.

The virtual format has allowed them to add elements to the performance that were not possible before.

“If you hold a puppet closer to the camera, it appears as though it’s looking right into the camera,” Rachel says. “We can do that kind of dramatic effect that you can’t get on a stage. If Haman is having his evil plot monologue, we can hold Haman closer to the camera, and it looks like he’s talking right at the audience.”

The Lipsys say that more synagogue members were able to participate this year.

“People who normally would not be able to take part as puppeteers because maybe they were not strong enough to hold them were now able to be creative and make their own sock puppets,” Shaina says.

She adds, “It feels like my mom’s legacy. We were worried we wouldn’t be able to do it, and it feels really sweet to have the support of our community.”

The puppet show will be livestreamed at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 25 at A recording of the show will be posted on the synagogue’s website and Facebook page following Purim.   

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