The Unspoken Value of The Seforim Sale
For the past 35 years or so, the YU community has benefited both fiscally and intellectually from the renowned annual Sefarim Sale event. This event, selling roughly over 100,000 books, provides a more affordable and convenient alternative for the YU community—satiating the avid reader's mind and bank account. Rather than face the trials and tribulations of New York's public transportation system in the middle of winter, those desperately searching for their next Shabbat afternoon read can now walk—or shuttle—no further than Belfer to purchase their respective sefer.
As students, teachers, and book lovers of all kinds calmly peruse through the various aisles of orderly arranged books, it is easy to forget the immense amount of time many YU students devote to this event's existence. To organize and sustain an event of this magnitude, the staff does much more than assist customers and place books on bookshelves. Students are responsible for every logistical aspect of this event—recording each purchase, dealing with vendors, handling tax return forms.
Seforim Sale profits must be managed responsibly since they are retained to sustain longevity for future sales, while a portion of the profit is donated to YU. In the past, this event has experienced certain financial setbacks, such as the 2013 “net loss of over $19,600 on revenue of $851,700”. But from such losses, the YU students organizing this event seem to have taken charge to ensure that all complex financial details are handled properly considering the increasingly impressive profit intake. Just last year's Sefarim Sale, the third successful sale post the financial atrocity of 2013, brought in around “$50,000 in total revenue”. Such success has been attributed to Sy Syms School of Business' Professor Fuld and Dean Strauss who responded to the 2013 Seforim Sale by providing a YU oversight committee for guidance. This is not only an admirably positive and productive response to failure, but also an enhancing quality for the sale itself. By implementing such guidance, the potential business skills available to YU students involved in the sale become much more valuable. Aaron Ishida, this year's Sefarim Sale CEO, believes that allowing “students to take on and experience what it's like to be part of a real business” is one of the biggest contributions of the Sefarim Sale.
The sale hosts an array of books with a wide variety of topics, from sets of halachic texts to analyses of the Middle Eastern conflict, each and every book is physically labeled by hand and then arranged in Belfer—the Wilf campus being the most spacious option for such a large event. Ishida claims that planning this event is so complex that it takes a full year to prepare. At first this may seem hyperbolic, but when one considers the sale staff's list of responsibilities: contacting and discussing logistics with 70 private vendors and 40 full time vendors, managing the marketing of the event both on and off campus, keeping track of finances and payments, practical set up of the event, designating specific jobs to specific staff, monitoring which books will be sold, and arranging a schedule of speakers that will interest the diverse customer population, the immensity of the project would give anyone a headache.
That being said, it is important to recognize the preparation and intense management involved in this project that countless YU students benefit from as well as many other Jews from various denominational backgrounds. The impressively low prices the Sefarim Sale is famous for will make almost any (Judaic) book worm chant “nowhere but here”, regardless of their personal affiliation with YU. In fact, while flipping through the overwhelming stacks of Jewish literature myself, a fellow customer commented (in an admittedly exaggerative way) “this book my friend bought here costs $70 everywhere else and around $20 here!”. Although specific profit numbers have yet to be announced, the Seforim Sale has once again provided an excellent event benefiting the Jewish community at large while empowering students to develop valuable business techniques—a quintessential Torah U'Mada event.