We Hope to See You Again Soon: Reflections on the Seforim Sale
10 hours of setup, 27 hours of working behind a desk ringing people up and, at the time of writing this, 10 more hours of clean up. For four weekends in February with my fellow cashiers of the Seforim Sale, I stood behind the cash register with a smile only a can of nitrous oxide could have created and the same memorized greeting for every customer that came to us with their baskets of books. It went like this: “Hi, welcome to the Sale, did you find everything you were looking for?” We would then pause for the response, hoping it would not spark an existential discussion about how people never find everything it is they set out to find. After all, those conversations were best left for the pizza breaks we’d take in the back on Sundays at lunchtime.
But after this greeting and finding the customer’s name in our Shopify system, I found the conversations to be eye-opening and the interactions to be genuine. Hearing the stories of the old-timers that have been coming to the sale as far back as they can remember, predating any current student by at least 30 or 40 years, I was privileged to observe the kind of introspection that we find so rarely in our culture, but which felt so at home surrounded by books that do the same. A language that is both very ancient and also recently revived after millennia of disuse is now used to write books that look to the past as a way of passing the torch to future generations hundreds of years later. The excited faces we saw and the squeals of joy we heard from children whose parents bought them The Little Midrash Says or one of the infinite volumes of Kids Speak show that this tradition will always continue.
As I sit and write this after finishing the final night of the Sale, I’m thinking of those conversations with the grandparents, and the love they expressed that was so clearly the catalyst for their purchases. After the initial recoil of hearing the final total, they all had the same smile and uttered a similar phrase, “If it was anything else, I’d put it back. But these are seforim, so how I can say I’ll put them back?” Because to put even one book back would be to weaken the never-ending chain of tradition that has gone back since the beginning of time itself, albeit in the smallest of ways. And even if you came, perused or didn’t buy what would be deemed a “traditional sefer,” it’s still an experience to remember. Because while it’s easy to forget, it’s not about the book we buy, but the fact that we buy them in the first place. To me, the Sale exists as a place where we should leave our preconceived notions about other sects of Judaism at the door, where someone wearing jeans and a t-shirt can shop alongside someone wearing a white shirt and pair of black slacks. And maybe this comes off as overly sentimental or hopelessly naïve, but I saw what I saw. It reflected the best that our community has to offer. A place where we were able to help excited beginners take those first steps on the path of Jewish learning, and where others purchased full sets of the Talmud, eager to follow along with the recently restarted Daf Yomi cycle. A place where a gap of history is closed between those that have been coming every year and those that are coming for their first time.
This may have been my first year working at the Sale but being behind that desk and seeing the faces come and go, blending from one conversation into another, it’s an experience I will definitely remember. So to those that helped make it possible, I’d like to say thank you. And to those I chatted with as I bagged your books, cherish your reading. To the children whose parents bought them the books that will hopefully spark their love of learning in any way, shape or form, you are all the future torchbearers of our nation. This may mean nothing to you now, but it will one day. And to the parents and grandparents that spent the money to make that journey possible, bask in the glow, you’ve more than earned it. So here’s to another successful Sale, and in times of division, may it always continue to be a place of unity among us all.
Photo caption: To me, the Sale exists as a place where we should leave our preconceived notions about other sects of Judaism at the door.
Photo credit: The Commentator