People of the Books

“What’s the frummest book you sell here?” the customer asks Adam, the gregarious bookseller.  “Do you sell Judaism for Dummies?  asks a man, not appreciating the irony–he was asking hovering over books, just under the sign indicating he was in the “Scholarly Works” section.  Welcome to YU Seforim Sale, currently in full swing on the campus of Yeshiva University in Upper Manhattan.

The Seforim Sale, which takes place from February 5-26, 2012, is, according to their website ( “the largest Jewish book sale in North America…The sale provides discounted prices on the widest selection of rabbinic and academic literature, cookbooks, children’s books, music and lecture CDs and much more.”

Minutes after havdalah, we caught the M101 bus on Third Avenue for the 45 minute ride to “the sale.”  As first timers, we had no idea what to expect.  Perhaps yeshiva bochers searching through piles of Gemarahs and Tanachs?  Could it possibly be true that last year, the book sale drew more than 15,000 people from the tri-state area, featured more than 15,000 books, and grossed more than $1 million in sales?

We were amazed with what we experienced.  Armies of helpful Stern College women and YU men were already in their places—on the floor and at the cash registers—as the doors of Belfer Hall opened at 8 pm.  Colorful maps were distributed to help the crowd navigate the carefully organized room—in addition to sections of gemarahs, midrashim, mishnayos, rishonim and achronim, were sections for history/Holocaust, novel/biographies, English mussar/machshava, haggadahs, Israel, cookbooks and more.

I expected to find only books reflecting a certain perspective.  Next to such titles as The Laws and Concepts of Niddah, and  Hide and Seek:  Jewish Women and Hair Covering were Wendy Mogel’s  The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children, books by Conservative rabbi, Reuven Hammer (The Torah Revolution:  Fourteen Truths That Changed The World), and Solomon Schechter’s classic  Aspects of a Rabbinic Judaism— With a New Introduction by Neil Gillman, Including the Original Preface of 1909 & the Introduction by Louis Finkelstein.

And the book lovers also came from many walks of life.  While most were clearly traditional, and many seemed to know each other, there were women with skirts of various lengths and some in jeans, and men with and without head coverings.  All in all, a diverse crowd sharing a love of books.

We shlepped our  books to the check out counter–minutes before the Y-Studs, one of Yeshiva University’s acclaimed a cappella groups, began their performance.  As we left, plenty were just entering—likely to stay until the midnight closing.  We smiled all the way home, with our first hand knowledge of why Jews are known as “The People of the Book”—or is it books?!

About the Author
Director-Tikvah program (for campers with special needs) at Camp Ramah in New England; consultant on special needs to National Ramah Commission; social worker; special educator; special needs bar/bat mitzvahs; writer for Jewish and secular publications.