Before the Bookcases: The People and Process Which Produce The Seforim Sale
Over winter break, the empty expanses of Weissberg Commons began to blossom. Branches of tables and leaves of bookshelves covered the previously barren space. As the spring semester began, stacks of books, at first barely visible from afar, emerged into sight. And so, this year like almost every other, The Seforim Sale slowly awoke from hibernation.
The Seforim Sale is an annual book sale, billed as the largest Jewish book sale in North America, which has an inventory of tens of thousands of books and attracts thousands of customers. In addition to selling books, The Seforim Sale also hosts events — this year’s sale having the most ever — such as a discussion between Rabbi Ezra Schwartz and Rabbanit Chana Henkin about being forthright about halakha. The planning and organizing for the event are primarily run by the Yeshiva University undergraduate students.
While customers who only see the fully stocked sale may not realize it, assembling The Seforim Sale is no simple endeavor, and it takes the hard work and dedication of many staff members to bring the sale into fruition. I personally have been working as a section manager, and I would like to focus on those whose efforts transform a large empty room into The Seforim Sale.
Preparation for The Seforim Sale began long before even the shelves and tables were in place. Moshe Nasser (SSSB ‘24), CEO of The Seforim Sale, told me that his work for the sale started last April, with recruiting head staff. He also began to work on his vision for the sale then.
While his job as CEO is demanding, and the work required only increased as opening day approached, Nasser never felt alone in the process. He expressed great appreciation for all the staff working there, telling me they are what makes the job enjoyable. “The staff makes it as easy as possible to put it all together,” he added.
Nasser has also received support from past CEOs. He referred to the community of CEOs as a brotherhood, and shared that their advice helped him take the reins of The Seforim Sale. He told me he has “reached out to CEOs who graduated years ago for advice for how to make the sale as successful as possible, which made the learning curve a lot easier.”
Nasser stressed the uniqueness of The Seforim Sale, describing it as “a unique experience in the community that you can’t find anywhere else across the world.”
Executive Vice President of Operations Jordan Stebbins (YC ‘24) described to me the ordering process. He and the ordering team started work for The Seforim Sale in early September, and have been working continuously since. They are responsible for contacting vendors, determining what and how many of each title they want to order, and ensuring that all the books arrive and are labeled properly. This year’s sale contains over 140 vendors, the most in The Seforim Sale’s history. They range from large publishers like Artscroll or Koren, to individuals who bring their own books to be sold. Students involved make a significant commitment to the sale. “There are some people on the team who have put in more hours to The Seforim Sale in a week than they ever would for a full time job,” Stebbins said.
Stebbins sees two primary aspects of The Seforim Sale as standing out. “First, it functions as a massive seforim store for the Jewish community, where they can purchase almost any sefer at great prices. Additionally, the sale functions as the largest fully student-run operation at YU, and is one of the only opportunities YU students can get to fully run a business while still in undergrad.”
Later, during winter break, the first phase of physical setup began, as most of the head staff and a few volunteers from general staff started receiving deliveries, unpacking and labeling books and filling shelves.
Avraham Walkenfeld (WSSW ‘25) works as one of the two heads of backend, which entails overseeing employees to ensure prompt filling of online orders and inventory management. He shared his view of The Seforim Sale’s value: “It shows what Torah Umadda is to both the broader public and to ourselves, that we can combine research with sifrei Achronim and cookbooks; that we can have a student populace educated and God-fearing that also serves the greater world.”
Adira Kahn (SCW ‘23) serves as one of three head cashiers, a job that entails overseeing the checkout area and being available for questions. Alternatively, in her words, “most importantly my job is to carry a walkie-talkie and look official.” She shared, “I think it’s so incredible that The Seforim Sale is a place that everyone can go to and be able to find something that reflects their own way of connecting with Hashem … it’s so inspiring to look around the sale and see a ton of people, each getting excited about their own things in the various sections of the sale, and then walking out with a new piece of Torah to learn.”
When spring semester began, the general staff joined in, and preparation kicked into high gear. With the combined contributions of many hands, we were able to fully unpack, label and sort even larger shipments in a relatively short time.
During this period, I asked a few other general staff what drew them to The Seforim Sale. Brandon Melamed (YC ‘25) shared, “I joined the sale because I wanted to be more involved in university culture and thought having the opportunity to help spread Torah would be a great way to do that.” Yedidya Schechter (YC ‘24) connected his joining the sale to his high school experience: “The Seforim Sale is a big production that I was able to witness through my years in high school and I had always hoped to one day work there.” Tehila Bitton (SCW ‘24) described the value of both the community of those who work for the sale and the value of facilitating learning, “To witness young students who are passionate about Tora learning, and helping others find the tools they need to learn, is a beautiful and inspiring thing.” Alayna Higdon (SCW ‘24) summarized succinctly, saying she signed up for “good vibes, fun people and lots of sefarim.”
They also highlighted the importance of The Seforim Sale to the Yeshiva University and broader Orthodox communities. Higdon described the value of the sale spreading Torah to people with all sorts of interests, and of creating a sense of community in YU. Schechter described his awe at being able to make thousands of Jewish books available to a broad public: “The ability to help out others in our community at large is humbling,” he said.
Finally, in a process that culminated late at night the Motzei Shabbos before the sale, books were set up on the shelves and tables to be sold, and the simple tidiness of the completed sale hid the effort that went into preparing it.
I’d like to end with what the Seforim Sale means to me: a potential source of unity for the Orthodox community, reminding us of the roots we share. During setup, I’ve worked alongside people with differing worldviews, and the rustle of healthy debate has at times breezed in the background. Yet, we all, from our differing perspectives, were united by a joint purpose. As Bitton shared, “There is amazing banter constantly, as well as intellectual and hashkafic conversations and passionate debates. It is such a wonderful time to make friends and get to know like-minded individuals.”
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Photo Caption: The Seforim Sale
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University