Yeshiva University News » Peninah Schram

Alumni Day at the Seforim Sale Features Panel of Accomplished Alumni Authors

Visitors to this year’s Alumni Day at the Seforim Sale, North America’s largest annual three-week Jewish book sale, were provided with a unique opportunity to hear from Yeshiva University alumni who are also accomplished authors. A panel discussion moderated by Dr. Ann Peters, assistant professor of English at Stern College for Women, elicited thought-provoking perspectives on the writing process as well as insights into the risks and rewards of writing about controversial issues.

Alumni authors (L-R): Landa, Koffsky, Diament and Blech.

Alumni authors (L-R): Landa, Koffsky, Diament and Blech.

But, most of all, the writers—which included longtime Yeshiva College professor Rabbi Benjamin Blech ’54YC, ’56R; health education specialist Sara Diament ’96S, ’98BR; children’s writer and illustrator Ann D. Koffsky ’93S; and photographer/dentist Dr. Saul Landa ’65YUHS, ’69YC—relished being able to return to their roots at YU.

“I remember being one of the girls [working] at the Seforim Sale,” said Diament.  “It’s a very warm feeling coming back.” Koffsky, who read aloud from her book Noah’s Swim-A-Thon at the sale, has been back to Stern several times as a guest speaker.  “I come back and relive my youth,” she said.  “It’s cool to be here at the Seforim Sale.”

Although Landa has traveled the world, including climbing to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, he still found it hard to believe that he was a featured speaker at Yeshiva University. His book is A Timeless People: Photo Albums of American Jewish Life. “[Participating on this panel] is a tremendous honor,” he said. “I’ve been coming to the Seforim Sale for 25 years and never thought I’d have a book here.”

As for controversy, Diament lamented that her book, Talking to Your Children about Intimacy: A Guide for Orthodox Jewish Parents wasn’t controversial enough. “My husband said if I’m really lucky I’ll get put in cherem [excommunicated] like Salmon Rushdie and then sell a million copies,” she joked. “I wasn’t that lucky. The overall response was very positive.”

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Blech’s book, Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican, however, has elicited much controversy. “Michelangelo hated the pope of his time and incorporated anti-Catholic, even Jewish themes into his Sistine Chapel,” said Blech.

The Seforim Sale is always a prime opportunity for alumni to mingle and share memories of their time at YU, and this year was no different for many visitors. Mordechai Plotsker ’98YC, came with his wife, mother and six daughters. “It was great to show my daughters where I attended school and to reminisce that in this very same room I took my finals. It was also wonderful to see all the enhancements on campus.”

Rabbi Pinky Shapiro ’01YC, a former student council president and editor-in-chief of the Commentator, looks forward to the event every year. “It is an amazing, student-run operation that benefits the entire community. This year’s selections were fantastic and it was a pleasure seeing generations of YU family all in one place. Best of all, you never know which friends you’ll happen to see.”

Kid-friendly activities allowed the littlest participants to get involved. An interactive a capella session with members of the Y-Studs was followed by an arts-and-crafts project led by educators from the Yeshiva University Museum.  The workshops concluded with a storytelling session by noted author Peninnah Schram, professor of speech and drama at Stern College.

The author, Chana Mayefsky, graduated Summa Cum Laude from Stern College in 2001 and earned her master’s degree from YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies in 2008. She currently freelances as a writer and editor and is a regular contributor to Publishers Weekly. Mayefsky lives in Hillside, NJ with her husband and two daughters.


Students Present North America’s Largest Jewish Book Sale from February 5 to 26

The students of Yeshiva University will hold their annual Seforim Sale, North America’s largest Jewish book sale, from February 5 to 26 in Belfer Hall, 2495 Amsterdam Ave on YU’s Wilf Campus in Manhattan. The sale is operated entirely by YU students—from ordering to setting up the premises, marketing and all the technology the project entails.


Last year the acclaimed Judaica book sale drew more than 15,000 people from the tri-state area and grossed more than $1 million in sales. The annual event provides discounted prices on the latest of more than 15,000 titles in rabbinic and academic literature, cookbooks, children’s books, and music.

The Seforim Sale has become a highlight for the Yeshiva University community, as students, alumni and members of the community congregate to visit their alma mater, see old friends and add books to their personal libraries. Proceeds from the sale support various initiatives, including student activities on campus and undergraduate scholarships.

Scheduled events at the sale include:

  • Alumni Family Day and Meet-the-Alumni-Author Event (Feb. 12), featuring a musical workshop with the Y-Studs, arts-and-crafts with educators from the YU Museum and story-telling with Stern College Professor Penninah Schram, followed by a panel discussion with noted alumni authors: Rabbi Benjamin Blech ’54YC, ’56R; Sara Diament ’96S, ’98BR; Ann Koffsky ’93S; and Rabbi Dr. Saul Hillel Landa ’65YUHS, ’69YC
  • Book signings with Susie Fishbein and Mazal Alouf-Mizrahi
  • Live musical performances by YU’s own a cappella groups, The Maccabeats and Y-Studs, as well as Ta Shma, The Groggers, Except Saturday and Shlomo Gasin
  • Lectures by the Bostoner Rebbe, Rabbi Nati Helfgot, Rebetzin Smadar Rosensweig, Rabbi Natan Slifkin, and Rabbi Gil Student

Those who cannot attend the sale can take advantage of the great prices and vast catalog selection by ordering online on the Seforim Sale’s Web site. For a complete listing of dates and times, to purchase gift certificates or to view the online catalog, visit

All YU graduates with valid YU Alumni ID cards will receive five percent off their Seforim Sale purchases on Alumni Day. To obtain your YU Alumni ID card, please submit a request by February 6 to

Read The New York Times coverage of last year’s Seforim Sale…


Festival of Jewish Folktales Honors Peninnah Schram

On November 6, students, academics, professional storytellers and members of the public gathered at the Yeshiva University Museum to share tales rich with tradition, personal meaning and religious discovery during “Folktales of Israel: A Festival of Jewish Storytelling Honoring Professor Peninnah Schram,” an event organized by YU’s Center for Israel Studies.

Jess Olson

Jess Olson, associate director of the Center for Israel Studies, offers greetings at the Nov. 6 event.

“So much of the story of the Jewish people is feeling and sharing the warmth of our tradition,” said Yeshiva University President Richard M. Joel. “People like Peninnah Schram, who has been here with us at Stern College for 42 years, work to ensure that true communication does not become a lost art, but continues to involve words, heart and soul.”

Co-sponsored by Stern College for Women, the YU Museum and the American Zionist Movement, the conference featured storytelling legends such as Dr. Dan Ben-Amos, professor of folklore and Near Eastern studies at the University of Pennsylvania and editor of the major series Folktales of the Jews; Rabbi Saul Berman, professor of Jewish studies at Stern College and an inaugural fellow of the Tikvah Center for Law and Jewish Civilization at New York University Law School; and Ellen Frankel, former CEO and editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society.

In addition to keynote lectures that considered the significance and role of storytelling in Jewish education and tradition, performances explored tales which ran the gamut from a legend about the staff of Elijah to a young woman’s emotional first journey to the Western Wall. Schram’s colleagues and former students also spoke about her influence in their own development as storytellers.

“Jewish tradition, being part of the oral world literature, contains the jewels and the core of oral traditions the world over,” said Ben-Amos. “In that sense, storytellers like Peninnah are drawing upon a tradition that is dynamic, classical and an influence on world literature. It’s a real pleasure to celebrate the contribution Peninnah has made in oral and written storytelling—she is a pioneer in the field.”

“Folktales are an essential part of Judaism because of the way we tell ourselves about our past determining our future,” said Dr. Steven Fine, director of the Center for Israel Studies. “Bringing this element of the mesorah [transmission of tradition] to life is what YU is all about.”

The festival honored Peninah Schram of Stern College for Women.

The festival honored Peninah Schram, professor of speech and drama at Stern College.

For Yaelle Frohlich, a former student of Schram’s at Stern College who is currently pursuing a master’s degree at YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, the festival was an opportunity to celebrate a mentor and to delve deeper into a field that has fascinated her since childhood. “I came as a fan of Professor Schram’s, but also because I have a special love of Jewish folklore,” said Frohlich. “The chance to hear about it from an academic perspective was too good to miss.”

The festival culminated with a heartfelt performance from Schram herself, as she shared the complex relationship of her grandparents, parents and children to Israel in a piece called, “Five Generations Rooted in Israel.” She was also presented with an honorary volume of collected folktales, Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning. Published by Reclaiming Judaism Press and dedicated to Schram, the book contains 60 original stories by professional storytellers, members of the rabbinate, and others.

“This is better than an Oscar,” said Schram, who is a recipient of the Covenant Award for Outstanding Jewish Education and the National Storytelling Network’s Lifetime Achievement Award. “An Oscar stays behind glass but this book is a living document with never-before-told stories centered around mitzvot—you can dive right in.”

She added: “It’s up to each of us to take these stories in our rich Jewish repertoire and transmit them the next generation. We must wear the mantle of responsibility to perpetuate the Jewish oral tradition.”


Center for Israel Studies Presents a Festival of Jewish Storytelling Honoring Peninnah Schram on November 6

Yeshiva University’s Center for Israel Studies will present “Folktales of Israel: A Festival of Jewish Storytelling” on November 6, 2011. The festival, co-sponsored by Stern College for Women, the Yeshiva University Museum and the American Zionist Movement, is free and open to the public and will take place at the YU Museum, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Peninah Schram

Peninah Schram, renowned Jewish folklorist and storyteller will be honored at the Nov. 6 festival.

Bringing together internationally renowned story tellers and scholars, the festival will be dedicated to the art of storytelling in and about the Land of Israel. The festival will highlight the beauty of Israel and its peoples, presenting through scholarship and performance some of the ways that storytellers have transmitted their love of Israel through the ages.

The festival honors Peninnah Schram, a world-renowned Jewish folklorist and storyteller who is professor of speech and drama at YU. Schram is a recipient of the prestigious Covenant Award for Outstanding Jewish Educator (1995) and has been awarded the National Storytelling Network’s 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award “for sustained and exemplary contributions to storytelling in America.”

“There is power and beauty in shared stories,” said Schram, who has authored ten books of Jewish folktales. “Since storytelling is a dialogue, it creates more understanding and community between people serving as a thread between hearts. This event will celebrate the stories of Israel that are so connected to each of the storytellers and the keynote speakers. I feel blessed to be honored by this magnificent festival.”

Featured storytellers at the festival include: Arthur Strimling, Barry Bub, Cherie Karo Schwartz, Ellen Frankel, Goldie Milgram, Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff, Laura Simms and Noa Baum. Keynote presentations will be given by Dan Ben Amos, professor of folklore & Asian and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Pennsylvania; and Rabbi Saul Berman, associate professor of Jewish Studies at Stern College.

“Folktales of Israel brings together scholars and performers, students and rabbis to celebrate all that is good about Israel,” said Steven Fine, director of the Center for Israel Studies and professor of Jewish history. “At this moment in Israel’s history, telling Israel’s stories is an act of hope and promise.”

For more information, to view the full schedule or to register for the festival, visit


Student-Organized Holocaust Education Symposium Teaches How to Keep Survivors’ Stories Alive

Featuring speakers who ranged in expertise from renowned psychologist David Pelcovitz, The Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Professor of Psychology and Jewish Education at Azrieli to Yeshiva University Museum artist-in-residence Sebastian Mendes, YU’s Student Holocaust Education Movement (SHEM) brought scholars, survivors and students together for a spring symposium on the Wilf Campus.

The event explored themes in Holocaust documentation and memory, guiding audience members through the process of preserving survivor stories in their own lives. Workshops and topic discussions included the psychology of victimhood, translating historical accounts into creative expression and how to elicit stories from survivors with sensitivity.

“Our students see their past, present and future as intertwined,” said Karen Bacon, The Monique C. Katz Dean of Stern College for Women. “As Jews, they have a sense of history and destiny. We all feel an obligation to elicit, document and immortalize these stories.”

According to Mindy Sojcher, a Jewish education major at Stern College and vice president of SHEM, providing participants with skills that would enable them to preserve Holocaust memories in their own right was a major focus of the symposium. “My grandparents are Holocaust survivors and I wanted to know for myself how to approach them, how to interview them,” said Sojcher. “We really emphasized the ‘how-to’ element of this event. We wanted people to walk away from these sessions with tools that will help them approach their grandparents, neighbors or other survivors and ask questions about their stories.”

Mindy Sojcher, vice president of SHEM

Mindy Sojcher, vice president of SHEM

Peninnah Schram, associate professor of speech and drama at Stern College, delivered a talk titled, “Stories of the Holocaust,” and suggested asking survivors to share the parables, proverbs and folklore of their childhood as a means of preserving the culture and heritage destroyed in the Holocaust. She also emphasized the roles personal testimony and folktales have played in the survival of Jewish experience throughout history. “Jews are a people who remember,” she said. “It is through our narratives and our creative imaginations that we most effectively transmit our history, faith, traditions and values.”

That idea resonated with Jesse Shore, a Yeshiva College senior majoring in philosophy with a focus in religion. “We’re the last generation that will have direct contact with survivors,” he said. “I think that as a Jew, you have as much of an obligation to incorporate the stories of the Holocaust into your identity as you do those of the exodus from Egypt.”

Peninah Schram

Peninah Schram, associate professor of speech and drama at Stern College

For Mitzi Steiner, an American studies and human rights major at Barnard College, the symposium’s focus on the future was important. “Tonight is more than a memorial,” she said. “It’s a night of active thinking and guidance about the best way to transmit these stories and memories into the future. We’re reaching a point where commemoration isn’t enough.”

Closing speaker Steffa Hassan framed the educational night with testimony from her own experience as a Holocaust survivor, a vivid reminder of the reason memory preservation is a critical focus in the Holocaust education movement. “What happened before is not a gone item,” she said. “By preserving the memory and traditions they tried to demolish, you are fighting yesterday’s Nazis today.”