Keeper of the Flame

In 2008, when a small group of women came to Flory wanting to learn the Ladino songs, she taught them nearly weekly in her home the way she had learned from her Nona—by ear with repetition and stories that created a rich experience. This group became Las Tiyas, the aunts, just as there had been a group of tiyas around Flory as she was growing up. After a stroke in 1996, when she was no longer strong enough to play her big concert accordion, Flory took up the guitar and chose the youngest of the tiyas, Heather Spence (aka Tiya Luna), to be “the inheritor of my accordion.” Flory patiently taught Heather starting with the basics. Today, Heather plays the Ladino music on Flory’s accordion with accomplishment.

Flory Jagoda with her childhood accordion, teaching Heather Spence on her performance accordion.

Flory was an instigator and inspiration who was essential to the current resurgence of Ladino language and Sephardic culture. She carried with her all that came before her to pass it onto those of us who live now so that we, in turn, can pass it onto those who come after. When I remember how she always grabbed my hand and held on tightly, I believe she was willing some of that inheritance to pass through her and into me. From everyone whose hand she ever held to the thousands around the world who saw her perform to those who sing Ocho Kandelikas each Hanukkah…we are now all Flory’s flames.