Whether at summer school or a lengthened spring term, Jewish students at hundreds of universities around the globe gathered for an all-night study session last week. The collective all-nighter wasn’t for exams, however, and the studies took on a decidedly more spiritual focus.

At campus-based Chabad-Lubavitch centers in North America, Europe, Israel and Australia, students observed the Jewish tradition of learning Torah throughout the night of Shavuot, which celebrated the giving of the Torah 3,321 years ago.

The preparations at Chabad of South Kensington, which serves several London campuses, began well in advance of the May 29 holiday. Marking a new direction in its Shavuot observances, co-director Rabbi Mendy Lowenthal turned the pulpit over to his college students, who spent two weeks digesting material to lead several classes during the nightlong session.

“It was different from any other studies I’ve undertaken, much more in-depth,” remarked Mark Harris, who attends Imperial College and taught about property rights in Jewish law. “Both because the material is complex and because you have to be prepared to answer questions, I tried to anticipate what others would ask.”

The experiment “was wonderful,” beamed Lowenthal. “They presented the material well and really interacted with the crowd. I thought the classes were phenomenal.”

The full schedule included prayer services and a student-prepared midnight gourmet meal, and was capped by a pre-dawn question-and-answer session that lasted nearly an hour. One of the classes featured a discussion of the biblical prophets.

Dairy-Based Feast

Two nights before the holiday, volunteers gathered at the home of Mendy and Sara Lowenthal to prepare the feast, an assortment of dairy foods comprising seven cheese cakes, 12 lasagnas, several trays of knishes, French onion soup and lemon meringue pie.

In developing the menu, the students took their cue from a widely-held custom to eat dairy during Shavuot in commemoration of the fact that prior to the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people had not been commanded how to properly slaughter animals for food.

For his part, Harris said that the celebration encapsulated the frenetic energy of the Chabad House.

“Shavuot was in some ways a reflection of what happens here every week,” he explained. “Students here tend to get very involved and to ask a lot of questions. It is a very lively group. Yet it is also very relaxed. It’s a great atmosphere.”

“What we see when students work to prepare a class like they did this Shavuot is that there is really no such thing as having ‘no background’ in Jewish learning,” commented Lowenthal. “The Torah belongs to every Jew.”