Writers Return to their Roots

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.

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