Local women bringing puppets to kids in Israel, Gaza

Robin Fletcher has to squeeze onto her sofa these days, wedging herself between the Cookie Monster and Barney the purple dinosaur.

She is sharing her couch with them and more than 60 other fuzzy hand and finger puppets. Fletcher’s good friend, Irit Weir, has her beat, with more than 200 puppets in her living room.

Robin Fletcher says puppets embody “joyful creativity.”

If all goes well, those puppets won’t stay for long.

The two Bay Area women teamed up last month to form Peace Puppets, a project to collect 1,000 donated puppets and ship them to traumatized children, ages 2 to 10, in southern Israel and Gaza. They hope to deliver their first puppets soon.

Fletcher, who lives in Oakland, and Weir, a native Israeli who lives in Napa, share a mutual commitment to Middle East peace. As the recent war between Israel and Hamas wore on, both women wanted to do something to help affected kids.

“One thing that always connected me is joyful creativity,” Fletcher said, “and puppets embody that. They are something a lot of people can relate to. Puppets cross cultures and you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy them.”

A professional sales and marketing consultant, Fletcher came up with the idea for Peace Puppets in August. She immediately called her friend, Weir, an acupuncturist and longtime facilitator of informal peace dialogues. Turned out Weir, who owns the winery Hagafen Cellars with her husband, Ernie Weir, had been thinking of doing something, as well.

“It was synchronicity,” Fletcher recalled. “Like so many, I was very saddened by what is happening in the Middle East. I called Irit to ask how she’s doing. She called right back, feeling distressed, too.”

Weir said “it takes a village” to pull off a project like Peace Puppets, so she and Fletcher started poking around. They found Vallejo-based puppet makers Ilene and Mike Kennedy, who immediately donated 88 handmade puppets and 92 others to the project.

Irit Weir will hand-deliver puppets this month. photo/barbara schwartz

From there, Fletcher and Weir enlisted friends to design a website and to get the word out. A Facebook page was started, declaring in an Aug. 23 posting, “Peace Puppets is born.” Sunshine Montessori School of Napa Valley asked all parents to donate.

To collect the puppets, Fletcher and Weir set up drop-off sites in Napa and Oakland. As of this week, they had amassed hundreds of hand puppets, finger puppets and even a few marionettes.

Each puppet gets affixed with a Peace Puppets sticker that includes the name of the puppet and a greeting from California.

“The intention,” Fletcher said, “is to say, ‘You are not alone. There are people around the world who see you. We are with you.’”

Added Weir: “The idea is when [we] bring [the puppets] to the school, we can hear the kids’ stories. We also have a Facebook page that encourages teachers and parents to post photos of the children with the puppets.”

Despite being new, the project has drawn considerable attention. On the Move, a child-centered nonprofit, offered financial support, as did many individual donors. The English-language edition of the Israeli daily Haaretz ran a story.

Now comes the hard part: getting the puppets to the Israeli and Palestinian kids who need them.

Weir will hand-deliver the first shipment later this month — directly to Israeli kids — when she travels to communities in Israel near the Gaza border. Getting puppets to Palestinian children in Gaza will be more difficult.

“We do need help on that part,” Weir said, noting that no plan is yet in place.

The two women hope their nonpolitical, pro-child agenda ultimately will win out, and the puppets will somehow gain safe passage to Gaza. For now, they continue to ask the community for puppets, money and other assistance.

As Fletcher pointed out, “A good idea that is shared and helps everybody at the right time has amazing potential. This happens to be one of those.”

Peace Puppets
is seeking puppets, donations and other help. For information, visit www.peacepuppets.org or send an email to [email protected].

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.