NEW YORK — As sports fans around the world turn to the Olympics in Sochi, New Yorks’ Jews make their way to the annual Seforim Sale — the largest sale of Jewish books in North America — hosted by Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus.
Over 12,000 Jewish book enthusiasts walk through the doors of YU’s Belfer Hall each year to take part in what has become a New York Jewish tradition. This year’s sale, on now through February 23, markets some 10,000 titles ranging from the latest editions of the Talmud to the recent “And Every Single One Was Someone,” a 1, 250 page book with the word “Jew” printed 6 million times, symbolizing the 6 million Jewish victims in the Holocaust.
The Seforim Sale began in 1974 as a fundraiser for Yeshiva University student scholarships, though it no longer has formal ties to the university. “We’re an independent non-profit,” says Gedalia Romanoff, a YU graduate and the CEO of this year’s sale.
YU and the Seforim Sale continue to have a close relationship, however, and its profits are still used to sponsor YU student initiatives and YU provides it with space and technical support whenever necessary.
‘We’re not afraid of ideas’
The sale aims to attract Jews of all denominations. “We’re not afraid of ideas,” Romanoff says of the sale’s pluralistic model.
The staff makes an effort to stay up to date with the latest titles from every genre of Jewish writing. Although everyone on the sale’s staff identifies as Orthodox, the titles are often by non-Orthodox writers.
This openness has made the sale appeal to a spectrum of ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews. One hasidic customer from Williamsburg says it enables him to find books that he wouldn’t have otherwise seen. “I’ve been coming for years, because of the gigantic selection of sefarim,” he said while standing next to Modern Orthodox man.
“The Seforim Sale is the only time where you’ll see a Jew without a yarmulke standing next to a Jew with a black hat exchanging ideas about the same book,” says Michael Osborne, a student at Yeshiva University and a frequent Seforim Sale customer.
At its core, two goals seem integral to the sale’s mission: spreading Jewish ideas and encouraging Jewish unity. Ariella Levkovich, a former student at YU’s Stern College, agrees, saying she sees the sale primarily “as a really great opportunity for Jewish people to reconnect to their religion through Jewish texts.”
Volunteers joke the sale will soon replace YU Connects, a popular dating service provided by YU
But even with the sale’s appeal to a broader Jewish clientele, there is no doubt that it is also a notorious social opportunity for Yeshiva University’s male and female students. It is staffed by nearly 100 YU students and alumni who volunteer to set up and operate the sale.
“Two members of last year’s board got married to other volunteers — and I just got engaged to a volunteer at the sale,” says Romanoff. In fact, the prospect of finding a significant other at the sale has become so common that volunteers joke it will soon replace YU Connects, a popular dating service provided by YU.
The sale typically nets around $1 million and the brand is now beginning to expand its presence to a national stage.
“We are pushing very hard to market our e-commerce platform this year. The Seforim Sale attracts thousands of people to the store from the tri-state area, but it is time for people around the country, including the West Coast, to realize that we are not limited to this community. Anyone can buy from us now, and at our prices, everyone should,” says CFO Nathaniel Kukurudz.