By: Elyanna Saperstein  | 

A Touro Take: My Experience Working at the YU Seforim Sale

YU has been at the center of my underdeveloped religious consciousness ever since I can remember having an underdeveloped religious consciousness. It's where my rebbeim came from, where the people I admire studied and where the biggest Jewish ideological debates today are fought. I personally don't come from a Modern Orthodox family or background — my brother wears a black hat, and a couple of years ago you would have found in me in my post-Bais Yaakov right-wing Modern Orthodox-machmir high school, and later seminary. Even now, I attend Lander College for Women, a college known as a bastion of the yeshivish world. It therefore surprised most people where I spent my February nights — proudly wearing my YU Seforim Sale staff sweatshirt and manning my beloved section, “scholarly and academic works.”  

The mess that I call my own hashkafa — a mad mix between the chareidi and modern orthodox ideals in an attempt at a truth — is beautifully reflected in the books of my section. Books with conflicting ideas and ideologies juxtaposed on each other as if in a dialogue, all in a quest to uncover truth. From treatises on Halacha and its process to biblical criticism and rabbinic responses, the academic section has the privilege of being one of the most diverse sections in the entire seforim sale. To the best of my knowledge, I am the first and only student to work at the Seforim Sale from my institution of higher learning, and one of the few Seforim Sale staff members not currently attending YU (shoutout to Yael Cohnen).  Despite my outsider status, I feel distinctly at home in between the stacks of books, their singularity mirroring my own experience. 

It’s been a fascinating experience to be able to participate in an activity usually reserved for insiders of a highly-specific university community. I had anxieties that I doubt many other students had to face unique to my situation like, “how do I get into a YU building? What if security stops me? Where even are the buildings?” To my surprise, people were friendly, security wasn't an issue as long as I had my license and everyone seemed eager to help me find whatever I needed. It seems that a shared love of books is a strong binder. And along with the unique downsides of working at the Seforim Sale as an outsider (like trying to fit my very non-YU schedule into Seforim Sale slots) there are amazing upsides too. I have gotten to know people truly passionate about Torah, experienced new and nuanced perspectives, spent lots of time around incredible (and controversial) books and am being paid in seforim (which is obviously the best perk). 

I want to take this opportunity and platform to say thank you to my friends who encouraged my love of books (and wrote ridiculously long emails to various Seforim Sale admins to try and get me an interview) and to the people who encouraged me to apply to the Seforim Sale despite going to the “wrong” school. Most of all, I am grateful to all the people who decided to look outside the YU bubble and invite me into their world filled with Torah, books and the wonderful experience that is the seforim sale. 

Photo caption: It therefore surprises most people where I spent my February nights — proudly wearing my YU seforim sale staff sweatshirt and manning my beloved section, “scholarly and academic works.”
Photo credit: YU Commentator