The small show, which combines modern photographs with rare historical artifacts, offers a fragmentary glimpse of two Jewish communities - one in the Old World and one in the new - that grew out of the 15th-century expulsion of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula.
The link between the two is not, as one might expect, mass emigration - the Jews in Curacao came mostly from Amsterdam and Brazil - but the life and work of one 20th-century scholar-rabbi, Isaac Emmanuel.
It is Emmanuel's archives that make up the heart of the exhibition, which also includes items from the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York; the Jewish Museum of Athens; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and elsewhere.
Emmanuel was born in 1899 to a Sephardic family that had lived in Salonika (now part of Greece) from 1497. After completing his ordination and other studies in Europe, Emmanuel served as a rabbi in Curacao, the Dutch-ruled island in the Caribbean that was the oldest Jewish settlement in the Americas.
He also became a historian of the Sephardim and author of works on both the Jews of Curacao and of Salonika, once Europe's leading Sephardic community.
Emmanuel's emigration to the New World was providential. His family in Salonika was wiped out during World War II by the Nazis, who killed 95 percent of the city's 60,000 Jews.
The Gratz exhibition, which is being presented in cooperation with both the Jewish Museum and the Sephardic Mikveh Israel synagogue, Philadelphia's oldest, contains a variety of materials: early texts in Ladino, the language of the Sephardic Diaspora; a small Rembrandt etching of Jews in the Synagogue; 19th-century postcards of Curacao showing a mix of pastoral scenes and Dutch- influenced architecture, and, of course, photographs of Jewish cemeteries past and present in the two cities.
The show's texts, in small cursive writing, are well-written but are a bit of a struggle to read. So are some of the more important documents in the show, involving Curacao's early history, which should have been transcribed or translated.
"From Salonika to Curacao," housed in the Jewish Museum's conference room, is hardly a comprehensive look at several centuries of Jewish life in these two cities. It offers only snapshots of its subjects and, in the end, doesn't even tell us much about Emmanuel himself. Its likely audience is
mainly those with a serious interest in the Sephardim and their history, who will appreciate this modest attempt to illuminate it.
IF YOU GO
* "From Salonika to Curacao: A Sephardic Odyssey" is on view through March 15 at the National Museum of American Jewish History, 55 N. Fifth St. on Independence Mall East. Hours: Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. Admission: $2.50 for adults; $1.75 for students, senior citizens and children 6 or over; free for children under 6. Information: 923-3811.