A group of Jews who trace their ancestry back to Spain meets periodically in Los Angeles to sing in Ladino, part of their Sephardic cultural heritage that fuses medieval Spanish and Hebrew.

"The choir's mission is to preserve the Ladino language and we need to hand it down to people in the United States who perhaps know or don't know that they have Sephardic roots," Elizabeth Martinez, a member of the Kol Sephardic Choir, told Efe.

"In my case, I didn't know and it's pretty important that this culture survive through music and that we pass it on from generation to generation to keep it alive," the California-born daughter of Mexican immigrants said.

Raphael Ortasse, a retired NASA engineer, decided in 1992 to organize a choir of Jews who in their homes sing and speak the Judeo-Spanish language in the United States.

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"The Hispanic family throughout Latin America and Spain should reconnect and join together again to appreciate the common culture we share," Ortasse, who was born in Sudan, grew up in Israel and then went to study aerospace engineering in the United States, told Efe.

"In 1492, the king of Spain expelled the Jews who would not convert to Catholicism," the director of the Kol Sephardic Choir said.

Ortasse said that many descendents of the Jewish diaspora who left Spain still preserve their musical culture.

"Jews had reached Spain, specifically the isle of Mallorca, by the time of King Solomon, and later during the Roman occupation another wave of Jews sought exile in Spain, whose culture and language they mixed with their own," the founder of the choir said.

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He said that the word Sepharad means Spain in Hebrew, so that a Sephardi or Sephardic signifies someone coming from Spanish territory.

"A year ago, we recorded the first disc with love songs and religious hymns that our community has sung since they left Spain 500 years ago," Ortasse said.

"Las Romanzas y Cantigas de Sefarad" (The Romances and Hymns of Sepharad) is an album of 16 songs with such titles as "Avre Tu Puerta Cerrada" (Open Your Closed Door), "Morenica" (Dark-Haired Girl), "Ir Me Quiero Madre" (Mother, I Want to Go), "Scalerica de Oro" (Little Stairway of Gold) and "Los Biblicos" (Those of the Bible).

The Kol Sephardic Choir is currently preparing its second disc that will debut late this year with songs in Ladino and Hebrew.

Turkish native Venus Franko Kapuya, a member of the choir, told Efe that she grew up in a community of Jews with Spanish roots that settled 500 years ago in that country where there are still families that speak Ladino at home and sing popular songs in that medieval tongue to their children.

"I believe that many of these songs are passed on by women," Kapuya said.

"Because when women go about their daily household routine, when they sew clothes for the family, when they cook for their families they sing, and my mother has vivid memories of her mother singing those songs," she said.

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