Maybe I'm not such a sceptic after all

Jamie Rodney finds himself singing Chanukah songs down the phone - to his own surprise.

December 19, 2017 10:31

A couple of things have happened since my last article. The first, is that Chanukah started - if you don't know what this is, then you're probably reading the wrong newspaper.  

The second - far less important in the grand scheme of things, but equally significant to this article - is that I went home for a couple of days during exam leave. Now, aside from the usual advantages a visit home can give a skint, underfed and permanently cold student, this latest visit home let me have a conversation with my younger brother which inspired this article.  

My brother is what the internet calls a "meme boi" - I'm not sure what the precise definition of this is, and if he's reading this he's probably cringing at the way I've misused it, but essentially it means he's got a better grasp of internet humour than is reasonable or healthy. It also means that whenever I see a meme I don't understand or haven't seen before, I'll ask him to explain it for me.

The most recent of these, coming up on my last visit home, was "Press F to pay respects." This meme, currently weirdly popular in Facebook groups, is based on a scene from the video game Call of Duty Advanced Warfare (hadn't heard of it either), where the protagonist attends the funeral of his best friend. The game gives the character the option to "Press F to pay respects" to the dead, apparently totally unaware of how unsuited the gesture is to the gravitas of the situation.  

I laughed at the fact some games company could make such glib work of something like that. Then I watched my dad light some candles, dutifully hummed along with a half-remembered bracha, then took my yarmulke off and went back to doing whatever I'd been doing before the menorah was lit.  

I don't like admitting this, but I've been pressing F to pay respects on Chanukah for the best part of the last few years. Sure, I know the story pretty well - the heroic, defiant struggle of what I guess were technically my ancestors against the Selucid oppressor, without which there'd be no state of Israel and no Jewish religion. And I know that, with that kind of heritage, I should probably care more about the holiday that I do.   

But I struggle, slightly, to keep myself interested. Unlike, say, Christmas, which professes to celebrate the salvation of the whole of mankind (and, more prosaically, the consumer spirit), the Chanukah story is about a very specific group of people, in a very specific time and place. It's hard for a student in Scotland, who's never killed a war-elephant or restored a desecrated temple, to emphasise with that.  

That was the note I was going to end on, but this evening, as I was walking home from the library, my parents called me. They had just lit the menorah, and wanted me to sing the brachot with me over the phone. I prepared to politely decline, and then found I somehow couldn't, any more than I could spit on a grave. So I stood there, oblivious to the cold of December in East Fife, ignoring the stares of people around me, and chanted the brachot down into the phone.  

Maybe I'm not as much of a secular sceptic as I thought. Maybe there's something more to this than men with swords killing each other in the desert. Maybe my observance of Chanukah rituals is more than pressing F to pay respects after all.  

Jamie Rodney is currently studying at St. Andrews University, and has written for The Tab and Labour Vision. He is part of the 2017 JC team of student bloggers.


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December 19, 2017 10:31

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