The Seforim Sale: More Than Just A Club

By: Elka Wiesenberg  |  February 12, 2019

by Elka Wiesenberg, Features Editor

To understand The YU Seforim Sale, established 1964, you first and foremost must understand that the sale is not simply one of the many clubs on the YU campus. It’s a corporation.

With over 40,000 books, or 15,000 titles, The Seforim Sale is the largest Judaica book sale in North America and the entire Western hemisphere. The Sale helps both Yeshiva University students and its neighboring communities acquire seforim (Jewish books) at incredibly affordable prices. It also has a website and shipping options to further its reach. And it’s entirely student-run, from start to finish.

The Seforim Sale is not an easy commitment. For many of its managerial staff members, the process starts in the spring before the Sale. There are books to be ordered, suppliers to be contacted, and decisions to be made. Seforim Sale President Ari Mandelbaum says that “one of the nicest things about the Sale—and the most difficult—is that every year it starts from scratch.” After being appointed President of the 2018-2019 Sale, Mandelbaum immediately began brainstorming, creating a new vision for this year’s Sale. Based on feedback from last year, Mandelbaum revamped the managerial staff team, creating new positions and hiring his dream team, to best fit the needs of the staff and the Sale overall.

Then comes fall, and it’s time for the “test run,” as Mandelbaum says: the fall sale. Small orders of books are brought in to supply students with seforim they will need for the year. Managerial staff learns how to use the equipment and keep the system efficient.

The fall holidays come and go, and hiring season begins. Mass recruitment emails are sent out.

Large amounts of people are interviewed. Over a hundred are hired to be a part of this amazing team (one of the largest numbers ever, according to Mandelbaum), whether as section managers, cashiers, or backend.

There’s orientation, critical to ensure that even though so many staff members are first-time, “the first day they show up to set up, they should feel comfortable walking in. They should know exactly what’s going on and be able to contribute in the most meaningful and effective way,” says Mandelbaum.

And the real work begins.

Managerial staff spent tireless hours over winter break taking in orders, unboxing, and organizing. The organization of the sale is astounding: every piece of inventory is carefully accounted for, with a label prepared and a section to be sent to. Putting a Seforim Sale label over the original one from the supplier is so satisfying because you see the price drop dramatically. The Seforim Sale is not for a profit; it is to provide Seforim. As Floor Manager Yoni Sonnenschein says, “It’s really creating an environment of Torah that we have in YU and spreading it to the outside community. It’s a really long process, but it’s so awesome to see everything coming together.”

Every staff member is required to commit at least ten hours to set up, thirty hours during the Sale itself, and ten hours to clean up. Since the Sale is only three weeks, the thirty hours staffing sections, cash registers, or computers in the back is about ten hours a week, while school is in session. Students who work at the sale are only paid in Sale credit. What makes this enormous time commitment worth it?

“I have so much pride to be representing such an important part of YU,” says Meira Greenland, Section Manager. “There’s nothing like [the Seforim Sale] in the world.”

The mission of the Seforim Sale, Mandelbaum explains, is “Yagdil Torah v’yaadir: We talk a lot about spreading Torah, making it great. We take this time and put in the tremendous effort in order to ensure that we can give people access to Torah at the best price possible, so that they can continue to grow and to learn.”

Walking through the aisles on the very first day of the Sale, there truly is nothing that compares to the feeling of comfort. Each section is complete with welcoming managers, capturing your attention with their uniform blue zip-up sweatshirts and their genuine smiles–as Sonnenschein and Co-Floor Manager Rivka Lichtenstein write in their weekly email to the staff, “A smile is a universal welcome. Come excited to sell [Torah]… have fun. Remember Sunday is Funday.” And you just know that the staff believes in this. You feel it. There’s a warmth that’s almost palpable. In fact, the staff buzzes with excitement to meet and assist new customers. Lichtenstein says her favorite part of the Sale is “interacting with the customers and the Sale [staff]–seeing the pull and connection people from all backgrounds and cultures have to Seforim.” Lichtenstein adds that the Sale is a motivator that “inspires you to be involved in  YU.” She’s been waiting for the opportunity to join the famous sale since she was “a little kid” and “started asking about it as soon as [she] got to Stern last year.”

The email that the Floor Managers send out is filled with quotable quotes (and they had no idea when they first sent it out that I would ask to use it for an article), but the most important message is conveyed in a hashtag: “#TeamworkMakesTheDreamwork,” which follows the self-ascribed crucial reminder: “Important: Remember we are all one team and all working towards the same goal.” Mandelbaum raves about his staff, calling them “the best, most committed, hardworking staff you could ask for—not even ask for, that you could find, anywhere. It does not get better than our staff.” He goes on, saying, “I could not be more grateful for this team. None of this would be possible without their endless dedication and effort.”

Head cashier Dahlia Laury explains, “Working at the Seforim Sale is fulfilling and rewarding because all the staff is here for the same reason, to spread Torah to the world.” Torah is what connects the staff, but also what motivates them and connects them to every single customer. As Allie Matofsky, a section manager describes, every staff member at the Sale is helping a Jew connect to Torah, to find a book that speaks to him/her and make it that person’s own chelek (portion). The Sale is an invaluable venue to enable Jews from all backgrounds find what speaks to them, and the staff are dedicated to guiding that process.

The Seforim Sale has so many important lessons about teamwork, commitment,and love of Torah. The most obvious message, however? If you want something done right at YU, get the student body to take charge. We are, after all, the world of tomorrow.