Light the Candles with Flory Jagoda’s internationally loved Hanukkah anthem: “Ocho Kandelikas”

National Heritage Fellow and Virginia Folklife Master Artist Flory Jagoda. (Photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Folklife Program).
National Heritage Fellow and Virginia Folklife Master Artist Flory Jagoda. (Photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Folklife Program).

As the holidays enter full swing, Christmas songs—ranging from the insipid to the sublime—become a seemingly ubiquitous presence in our lives. Largely buried in a sonic avalanche of sleigh bells, silent nights, and old St. Nick’s, however, is the infinitely smaller repertoire of Hanukkah songs. Though lesser-known than many of its Christmas counterparts, one song written by our beloved friend and National Heritage Fellow Flory Jagoda has resonated with audiences across the globe, making “Ocho Kandelikas,” Ladino for “Eight Candles,” essentially the world’s foremost Hanukkah anthem. While many mistakenly assume that it is a traditional song that has endured generations, Flory actually wrote “Ocho Kandelikas” in 1983. The song, reminiscent of a children’s counting song, is sung in Ladino, as Flory channels her memories of the excitement of Hanukkah from her childhood.

A longtime friend and participant in many activities of the Virginia Folklife Program, Flory Jagoda was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, a member of the Sephardic Jewish community. When the Sephardic Jews were forced into exile from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century, many settled in other Mediterranean countries but preserved their native language, called Ladino. Flory has devoted her life to the preservation of Sephardic music and culture, carrying on the songs she learned from her “nona” (grandmother).

Versions of “Ocho Kandelikas” span nations and musical genres, sung by everyone from children’s choirs to European rock bands. Erran Baron Cohen, brother of of Ali G and Borat creator Sacha Baron Cohen, included “Ocho Kandelikas” on his Songs in the Key of Hanukkah album in 2008 (crediting it as “traditional” rather than a Flory Jagoda composition).

This holiday season, you can support the enduring work and legacy of Flory Jagoda through our Flory Jagoda Sephardic Music Fund. The Fund supports scholarship and the continuation and celebration of Sephardic music, language, and culture.

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