Flory Jagoda is maintaining one of the rarest and richest cultural traditions of Judaism -- the Ladino songs of the faith's Sephardic branch. "The songs are the history of the Sephardim, Spanish Jews, who left Spain after the 15th-century inquisition and settled down in Mediterranean countries Turkey and what is now Yugoslavia, in particular . For 450 years they kept the Ladino language Spanish written in Hebrew script and traditions alive. You would go to school and speak Yugoslav, but the minute you came through the door you spoke Jewish, which was old Spanish. The prayer books would have Hebrew characters but when you read it out loud it would be Spanish. It was remarkable."
Before World War II, there were 82,000 Sephardic Jews in Yugoslavia; less than 6,000 survived, half going to Israel and the rest scattering around the world. Jagoda, who married an American soldier and moved here after the war, is the last member of her family to live in Yugoslavia. She has made it her mission to leave a record of the lives and traditions of the Balkan Sephardim.
She has just released "Kantikas Di Mi Nona (Songs of my Grandmother)," available from Altarasa, 6307 Beachway Dr., Falls Church, Va. 20044. The album contains songs handed down through many generations as well as original songs based on her remembrance of holidays in Yugoslavia. Jagoda will also give a workshop today at 2:30 p.m. as part of the fourth annual Jewish Folk Arts Festival at Armory Place in Silver Spring. For information: 589-6947.