Lyra Halprin’s mother never liked raising money for raffles. It wasn’t until many years later that she discovered why: Saralee’s family hosted raffles to earn the money needed to help their family in Europe escape persecution. Somehow, selling candy door to door just didn’t seem that important.
We were moved by the voice and narrative in Lyra’s essay, “Rescuing Esther,” which ties the story of her family fleeing Europe to Trump-era America, where she was eager to show recent arrivals to the U.S. that they were, indeed, welcome and necessary parts of the community. We’re excited to read an excerpt of this piece on June 17 as a part of Our Stories, Ourselves, in partnership with the San Jose Museum of Art.
Lyra is a Northern California writer whose stories have aired on NPR, Capital Public Radio-Sacramento, and KQED-San Francisco, and appeared in newspapers, magazines and online venues. A former reporter, she worked for 20+ years as a public information person for the University of California sustainable agriculture programs. She is working on stories about growing up in an activist family in the 1950s and ‘60s and believes the secret to living in this crazy world is having a big humor gene, a loving family and a soft dog.
She was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance of our June show.
How has your creative practice changed during the pandemic?
I used to meet with 2 writers every month, sending them what I was working on ahead of time. Now we meet every week, talk a little, then leaving the camera on we write.
What does “immigrant heritage” mean to you?
The dreams, fears, delights and memories we/they bring with us/them.
What else should we know about you?
A writer friend described her students stumbling into “completely unconfined, holy gears in their writing,” words that bring tears to my eyes because they explain how I often feel at the keyboard. I cherish those holy gears as I’ve been working on transforming my essays and journal entries into memoir stories about a girl growing up a feminist in California in the 1950s-70s. My stories feel more urgent in the wake of our frightening political reality.
I’m reminded that members of my family perished in the Holocaust, and family and friends were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era, but I grew up in a vibrant activist household filled with hope and optimism. I want to share that with my children, other young people, and those grappling with feelings of hopelessness to show that natural beauty, art, music, and progressive action can thrive and sustain us during chaotic times.