By Benjamin Morris
The YU Seforim Sale has officially been canceled for this coming year, 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Seforim Sale is renowned for being the biggest Jewish book sale in North America, with a diverse collection of Seforim that attracts customers from all over the world. To many the sale is more than a simple Jewish bookstore on campus, being that it is completely student-run, the sale is also known as a social event for both students who work there as well as customers, bringing a sense of community to the YU student body. The sale is known to bring in customers that span the entire hashkafic (Jewish philosophical view) spectrum, bringing together all types of Jews in one room. According to Eli Seidman (SSSB ‘21), who was set to be this years CEO, “it is so amazing to see thousands of people coming to YU every year for the sale and how much Torah and the love of Torah has been spread because of the Seforim Sale.”
In an official statement from Seidman, he says “After much research and analysis, we have decided not to have the in-person Seforim Sale this year due to social distancing restrictions and health and safety guidelines. We explored many different options. However, given the ever-changing NYS and NYC guidelines, it was not possible to plan and host the event this year and a virtual sale was not an option. We recognize that many of our students and community members look forward to the sale every year and we hope to be back in-person for a Seforim Sale soon. Our team is continuing to look into ideas for future events and will share additional updates when they are available. We thank our community for the ongoing support of the Seforim Sale.”
The sale was supposed to be run just like every other year, in Belfer Hall from the second week of February. The upper staff team had been appointed and were attempting to find safe ways to open an in-person sale. However, it became clear a few weeks ago, that a safe in-person option would not be available. Even with a room as large as Belfer Hall (where the sale commonly takes place), social distancing remains a concern especially with the amount of prospective customers that the sale may have. In addition, it is still unclear when YU’s no visitor policy will be lifted, meaning an in-person sale would only be available for in-person students. An online option was considered but it was too logistically and financially complicated, according to Seidman
While COVID-19 did not affect the sale itself in 2020, it did have a big effect on clean up after the sale, according to last year’s CEO Hudi Rosenfeld (SSSB ‘21).This resulted in Rosenfeld coming in by himself until April 1st to finish clean up. According to Rosenfeld, the 2020 sale was responsible for the sale of over 28,000 books equating to approximately $740,000. “[T]he sale not only facilitates the sale of Seforim to the YU community, but I think that it is an event that many families mark on their calendar every year to take a visit and support and will miss this year,” continued Rosenfeld. “For the students, it is a place to work with friends and meet different people while spreading Torah and Judaism to the communities around us,” he concluded.
The Seforim Sale is run by approximately 100 student volunteers every year. Some people come to volunteer for the social experience, others need the extracurricular activities, but many are drawn to volunteer because they want to help facilitate the study of Torah amongst the Jewish community. Many students who were set to work at the sale this year are disappointed to not have the opportunity this coming February. One of the students who worked in the sale in 2020, Megan Herskowitz (SCW ’21) said “I really enjoyed working with the other amazing staff members and getting to see the joy on customers’ faces as they left with their new Seforim … While I am disappointed that the sale had to be cancelled, I understand that safety comes first and that it was important to cancel the sale for the safety of customers and staff members and I am looking forward to the 2022 sale.” This sentiment was shared by many of the prospective staff. In a statement from Rafi Kapitanker (SSSB ‘22), she said “when I heard that the sale wasn’t happening this year, I was disappointed. I had a great experience working at the sale last year and I was looking forward to working at the sale again this year.”