Just hearing the words “Seforim Sale” arouses many different thoughts. Some people think of books they want to purchase, others think of the chance of catching up with old friends, and some think of meeting their beshert. But the Seforim Sale makes me think of something totally different. As someone who was involved in running the sale, I was more concerned with the financial integrity and transparency of our operations.
For those of you who are not familiar with the Seforim Sale, it is a completely student-run event that aims to raise funds for YU undergraduate activities. The Sale is the largest Jewish book sale in North America and sells just over 15,000 titles and grosses on average $1 million every year. If run correctly, the Sale should raise between $60,000 and $80,000 a year to donate to student life.
The sale faces many challenges that are not really known to the student body. The largest issue is that many of the leaders of the Sale spend money on items that are unnecessary, such as food and other personal items. These funds can be donated back to the students in order to have more events or even to improve student life at YU. Another glaring problem is that they are not held responsible for their careless, or sometimes even selfish, decisions. The student body deserves all the funds it can receive from the Sale, and someone needs to hold them accountable.
But what bothers me the most about the Seforim Sale is a lack of ethical responsibility to the student body. At this past year’s annual Seforim Sale dinner for members of the board (which I did not attend), the board spent $850 at Le Marais (they had two bottles of wine). As a past student semi-leader, I am appalled. The lack of ethical consideration prior to this meal can only be understood as either gross negligence or selfish indulgence. Even if the amount spent represented only .5% of the funds available for donation, it is still absurd that seven YU students had a meal for $850 on the YU bill. That money could have been used for numerous student events, not the gratification of seven students at Le Marais.
I do not disagree that these students deserve some form of reward for all of their hard work invested at the Seforim Sale. But, they all receive salaries in seforim, which should suffice. There is no need to add on an extra meal for just under $1,000. And to make it worse, last year’s sale technically ran in the negative, so the CEO was spending money that was not available for personal (or selfish) expenditures.
I know that last year, around this time, several of the managers of the Sale made an effort to improve the Sale. We analyzed previous years’ financial statistics to figure out what we were selling best, we analyzed our costs in an effort to spend less, and we even conducted an IT audit and updated our systems. Everything was great. However, after a while, things were slowly forgotten, we were more focused on just getting through it. We all had our reasons, some more significant than others, and in the end, we followed through on almost none of our plans for improvement.
I challenge this year’s Seforim Sale management to change that path.
I challenge this year’s Seforim Sale to be transparent, and share with the student body of Yeshiva the information it deserves to know.
I challenge the Seforim Sale to not only share results with the administration, but to also publish an income statement in The Commentator, so the student body can see expenses (by category, e.g. food, cost of books, and most importantly, salaries) and revenues.
But, my biggest challenge is to the student body. I challenge you to speak up and demand the information and funds you rightfully deserve to receive from the managers of the Seforim Sale.
Don’t you think you deserve to know where your money is going? After all, this is a fundraiser for you, the students of Yeshiva.
Jonathan Korman was Chief Operating Officer of the Seforim Sale until he had to resign for personal reasons. He majored in accounting and is a graduate of Yeshiva (SSB ’11).