By: Dylan Broder  | 

The 2023 Seforim Sale Hit Record Sales After Two Years of COVID Restrictions

The Seforim Sale at Yeshiva University hit record sales this year, in its return to normal after adhering to COVID restrictions for the past few years. The sale welcomed thousands of visitors for book buying and special Seforim Sale-run events that led to record attendance and sales.

As the first sale since COVID restrictions were dropped, the sale was able to make the experience more family-friendly. The dropped restrictions also allowed for school trips to the sale to resume. Moshe Nasser (SSSB ‘24), CEO of the Sale, partially attributes the success to older folks feeling more comfortable visiting the sale after the waning of the pandemic. Additionally, Nasser believes the sale drew in customers by hosting speakers and events as well as featuring newly published seforim, some exclusively available at the sale.

Set in Weissberg Commons in Belfer Hall on the Wilf Campus, The Seforim Sale is the largest fully student-run operation at YU. Each year, the planning for the sale, advertised as the largest Jewish book sale in North America, begins months in advance, while the sale itself usually begins early in the spring semester. Tens of thousands of books, ranging from seforim on Halacha and Tanach to biographies to cookbooks, are lined on tables and shelves, drawing in thousands of customers.

The last sale to run at max capacity was in 2020, just before the onset of the COVID pandemic. In 2021, due to heavy COVID restrictions, The Seforim Sale closed, putting a pause to the annual tradition running since 1964. The sale reopened its doors in 2022 but with many restrictions. All attendees had to be vaccinated, which meant families couldn’t bring young children and school trips to the sale were prohibited. In-person events, one of the sale’s biggest ways of drawing in customers, were not allowed. Additionally, supply chain issues meant fewer seforim than previous years. This year The Seforim Sale returned to full capacity.

The 2023 sale, though, was not just a return to The Seforim Sale’s former glory — its sales and attendance even outperformed previous years which hadn’t been affected by COVID. In 2013, the sale lost more than $50,000, after which it was restructured to operate in a more efficient and businesslike manner. In this restructuring, the Seforim Sale website launched, which – with an upper outlier of the 2022 sale run during the pandemic – has contributed to around 10% of the sale’s revenue over the past few years. 

Since then, the sale has turned a profit. From previous reporting in The Commentator, the sale generated $722,000, $750,000 and $740,000 in revenue in 2015, 2017 and 2020, respectively, each year with an average net income near $50,000. This year’s revenues and net income beat the previous record, though The Seforim Sale did not wish to reveal the exact figures. The Commentator independently investigated this claim with Seforim Sale head staff and confirmed it was true. 

According to Nasser, one of the driving factors to the success of this year’s sale was its family-friendly atmosphere. This was the first year since the start of the pandemic that parents could come with their young children. There they could find the children’s section fully stocked with fun and educational books and toys. The section was fitted with a cushioned bench in front of the bookcases and colorful foam tiles on the floor for reading books from the shelves. Some of The Seforim Sale staff also led group story times where they read from children’s books to all the children gathered around.

“It was really helpful to have the entirety of a family come back,” Nasser commented. “We were really able to make it into a family-friendly type of event and really allowed children and the entire family to enjoy what The Seforim Sale really is.”

Additionally, this year’s sale boasted the most events it’s ever had. After a year void of in-person events, this year sometimes even had two events in a day. Most of the events featured a speaker or panel discussion. Some of the events were book launches, including one for President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman’s “The Final Exam: Letters to Our Students.” In keeping with the family-friendly aspect of the sale, many events were also created for children. These included the ANDiDREW Torah comics workshop as well as a joke workshop by Sari Kopitnikoff.

Nasser noted that they were lucky to have many popular books come out around the time of the sale which also helped draw in customers. Many customers came to buy “Forever a Talmid” which was published just prior to the beginning of the sale. Others came to find the newly released “Batei Yosef” on Elul-Tishrei or Rabbi Shalom Rosner’s “Shalom Rav Haggadah.” Additionally, some seforim were exclusive to the sale or could not be found anywhere else, like the Hebrew set of  “Minchas Asher al Hatorah,” which, having been out of print for a number of years, drew in dozens of customers.

After months of planning and dozens of students volunteering with setup, operations, and clean up, the sale was an amazing success. It wasn’t just a return from COVID, but a triumphant bounce back to record sales. The sale this year leaned into what was missing during the COVID-era of the sale: events and family accessibility.

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Photo Caption: The Seforim Sale hit record sales this year

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University