Flory Jagoda rehearsing with her granddaughter Ariel Lowell.
Flory Jagoda rehearsing with her granddaughter Ariel Lowell.

Viewers will get a glimpse into her extraordinary life, told by Flory herself.

When I was a child, one of the peak experiences of every summer was going to the home of Flory and Harry Jagoda to experience a musical festival of folk ballads from Bosnia.

During WWII, Flory became a translator for the American Army in Bari, Italy. There, she fell in love with Sgt. Harry Jagoda and immigrated to America with him in 1946. In America, they married, settled in Virginia and raised four children. My parents, also from Yugoslavia, fled to Bari to escape the Nazis. There they met Flory’s parents. They reconnected in America and formed a special bond. 

Flory, a beautiful woman with a kind soft voice, showed up for all our family milestone events and was always ready to play her accordion. Her smile, passion and cheerful playing made everyone want to sing and dance. Flory’s protege, Sarah Aroeste, put it this way: “Flory’s music was in her tissues.” 

Flory’s talented musician friends never failed to fill the air with joy. The summer of America’s bicentennial, she hosted a big July 4th celebration where we arrived to find a huge lamb roasting on a spit. She encouraged us all to participate in the musical portion of the night. Flory taught my sister and me a Serbian song that we performed. 

Flory’s Chanukah counting song, “Ocho Kandelikas” (Eight Little Candles), is world-renowned and performed by many, including Idina Menzel.

Son Elliott Jagoda, mom Flory Jagoda and daughters Lori Lowell and Betty Murphy.
Son Elliott Jagoda, mom Flory Jagoda and daughters Lori Lowell and Betty Murphy.

Her life mission was to keep the Sephardic melodies that have been passed down for 500 years alive. She was one of the few people in America who could speak Ladino, a language spoken by the Sephardic Jews (Judean-Spanish) who were exiled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. 

In 2002, Jagoda received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for her efforts in passing on the tradition of Sephardic songs sung in Ladino. She was a master artist in the folklife apprenticeship program for the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and was also honored with the American Immigrant Award. In 2007, she performed at the Library of Congress to commemorate the library’s celebration of Women’s History Month. 

Flory passed away on the eve of “Shabbat Shira,” Jan. 29, 2021, at age 97.  

Congregation Shaarey Zedek will share a Zoom presentation of Flory’s Flame, a documentary about her life, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 2. 

Viewers will get a glimpse into her extraordinary life, told by Flory herself. You’ll hear songs she learned from her Nona (grandmother) as well as original compositions. 

Flory’s daughters, Betty Jagoda Murphy and Lori Lowell, and her granddaughter, Ariel Lowell, will join the audience for a Q&A session after the film. Ariel has the voice and the talent to continue her grandmother’s commitment to preserve Sephardic musical traditions with her mother, Lori, and her Aunt Betty. Ariel also writes her own contemporary music. 

The story of Flory’s journey before and after coming to America will capture your hearts. Perhaps there are young musicians out there looking for something new they can discover from this beautiful old Sephardic heritage? 

Details

Flory’s Flame will be shown via Zoom at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 2. Visit shaareyzedek.org to register.