Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Planet of the Apps

Pardon my ignorance, but what exactly is an "app?"
And while we're at it, what's the deal with Americans' insatiable app-etitie for apps?

In recent years, I have observed this phenomenon with growing app-rehension. App-arently, app appeal is app-roaching record levels, but it app-ears that the app-ex is still nowhere in sight. App-roximately seventy million Americans use so-called smart phone apps, and that number is growing daily. Younger people are more app-savvy than adults, who are considerably less appt to app, but that is changing. Even older folks who were once largely app-athetic to technology are beginning to app-reciate the joys of apps. The generation gapp is narrowing.

What's all this app-craze about anyway? Have we all become app-ahaulics?

Now that we're all walking around with fancy little $600 mobile devices, are we better off? Are we happier, or just app-ier?

It's app-solutely app-alling, if you ask me.

Just take a look at the app store. Apps galore. There are recreation apps, weather apps, productivity apps, even religion apps. You could straighten your tefillin with a handy tefillin app, or pray with an interactive prayerbook app. (Conversely, I suppose one could opt to app-andon one's religion with an app-ostasy app.)

Apps have even replaced relationships! You could have a dialogue with an intuitive app that reads your mind and talks back to you. The happy app cheers you up with a joke or compliment, and will commiserate with you when you're down. Dis-app-ointed your spouse? No worries. You could app-ologize with an app-ology app.

Trying to track your teenager's movement? No problem! Get a mobile monitoring app. Who needs honest communication, trust and responsibility? That's old hat. Get the app and you're all set.

How often have you mentioned a random topic in a group of company and someone had to app-noxiously inform you that "There's an app for that!"?

Indeed, you could practically live your entire life with apps. You could work remotely with an occupational app. Make house app-raisals, set up app-ointments, app-ly for a loan, read about the App-ollo, App-ache or App-alachian. With a shopping app, you could shop for app-arel, app-etizers or app-liances. Like Phantom of the Appra? With a bit of appracadappra, it's at your fingertips! You could read it with an ebook app, listen to it with a music app, or view it with a movie app.

There's an app for everything. An app for app-etite loss or app-dominal pain, an app for moustache trimming, mountain climbing, rocket building, or bird watching. There's even an app for sleep app-nea.(Problem is, you'll waste so much time on your iPhone that you'll be sleep-deprived anyway.)

App-endicular to all of this is the toll that app-mania is taking on our impressionable youth. First it was the raps. Now it's the apps.

App-art from the sheer waste of time spent by youngsters on apps, excessive app use does not seem to be improving their app-titude for achievement in school.

It seems that every time I app-rehend one of my app-happy students yapping about apps, I later app-rise the parent and discover that the child's fixation on apps meets with parental app-roval. Is this app-ropriate?

Our kids are being taught to rely on electronic app-aratuses to help them think. My daughter spends much of time in her advanced math course punching numbers into a fancy hundred-dollar calculator. Her classmates are now doing assignments with their iPhones, thanks to a new scientific calculator app. Is it AP class or APP class?

Speaking of school, kids never worry about being app-sent any more, because they can remotely access all class materials or assignments with a nifty homework app. It's app-normal!

I don't mean to be app-ocalyptic or anything, but what is this world coming to? Have we become so dependent on smartphone apps that without them, our society would coll-appse?

I had occasion to ride the commuter rail recently. Every single passenger on the train was enrappt in their smart phones. It was app-surd. They were too app-sorbed in their apps to notice their fellow, completely app-livious to their surroundings. No good mornings, no eye contact. It was a stifling app-mosphere.

What is app-ening to our world? Has it become "Planet of the Apps?" Has our society sunken to the app-ysmal depths of app-dependency?

I am sorry, but this app-robrious app-omination has got to stop. In this widespread appsense of common sense, someone has to un-app-ologetically and un-app-ashedly speak up for what's right.

I'm not necessarily app-osed to all apps, but quite frankly, I am skeptical as to whether there is true value in this modern-day phenomenon. I guess you can call me an app-nostic.

Perh-apps we ought to scrap the apps and focus on the here and now. Let's free ourselves from app-ressive app app-session. The key to happiness is not appiness!

Let's start living in the real world, not the virtual one. Learn to avoid the trap of the app. Instead of relying on a GPS app, why not use a mapp? Need to change a hubcapp? Use your thinking capp. Want to get fit? Go run a lapp and eat a healthy wrapp. Tired? Take a napp. Just do it, but do it without the app!

I'll be the first to app-laud your effort.

Personally, the only apps I buy are app-les and app-ricot jam, and frankly, I'd like to keep it that way. (Oops, I should've been more specific: I meant the old-fashioned edible apples that grow on trees).

My kids claim I'm behind the times, but I'm just waiting for the next technology to come along that will render apps app-solete.

So, in conclusion, don't get zapped by the app. Rather, tap into your own inner apps, the Torah and its mitzvos. Learn how to muster the powerful spiritual tools G-d gave you and apply them to every aspect of your daily life. They are state of the art. Best cuting-edge technology that never gets outdated, obsolete or phased out. (In other words, they won't go the way of the Treo, flip phone or fax machine, like your latest iPhone and its apps ultimately will, condemned to fade away behind the cobwebs of posterity). Your soul's hardware comes with a longer-than-lifetime factory warrantee from the Designer and CEO Himself. Guaranteed to withstand all trials and tribulations, to be used in any application, in the harshest or most adverse of conditions. Indeed, the soul is eternal, and so is a mitzvah.

That's why the Bible is so compelling. Real people using their spiritual tools to their fullest G-d-given potential. And that's what the Messianic Era is all about.

That's why everything really exists, for us to reveal G-dliness inherent in everything, thereby creating a dwelling place for the Creator in His world. And that's truly the only reason mobile phone apps exist. So if you gotta use 'em, use them for the true purpose of their existence. Utilize them for studying and teaching Torah, for doing mitzvot, for reaching out to your fellow human being with deeds of goodness and kindness.

Who knows? Maybe the app designers will catch on and create a "Moshiach App," letting everyone know the happy news at the very moment Moshiach arrives. Now that's what I call a useful app!

Friday, May 3, 2013

More on Mobile Phone Mania... the "iPhone"

As a postscript to our previous post, here's something else to ponder:

Ever wonder about the semantic appeal of the name for one of America's most popular mobile devices, the so-called "iPhone?" You gotta admit that it was a clever idea. Not to mention its forerunner, the "iMac," and later the "iPod," or its newer cousins, the "iPad" and "iTouch," or "i-Whatever."

The brilliance of this name is obvious. This phone is about me first.  I am free to express myself or experience the world of electronic communication and media the way I want to. This device is working for me, not against me. It's all about me.

(Some originally thought that the "i" stood for "internet ready," but the originally offline "iPod" precluded that theory. Some say it stands for "intelligent," "individual," "inspiring" or "informational," but I say that they are missing the point. English is distinctive in that it is one of the only languages in which the first person singular subject pronoun is a single capital letter, "I." Any handwriting analyst will tell you that. That's why the letter "I" is so meaningful to people, perhaps the singlemost important letter in the alphabet.)

It's ironic, though, that the "I" of written iPhone, has been demoted to lowercase status, while the p of Phone is capitalized.

What can that teach us?

Well, for one, the very notion of an "iPhone," that I and my phone are one inseparable unit, is inherently un-Jewish. Judaism teaches us that I am my neshama, the soul. My body is only a temporary vessel, a rather crude concoction of flesh, blood and bones. The corporeal  body is not me, but merely my neshama's vehicle during her relatively brief sojurn in this earthly realm. If the real I cannot be defined by my bodily shell, it certainly can't be identified by a relatively worthless piece of metal, plastic, glass and silicon, that my body happens to use to communicate electronically with others.

Let's not confuse the means with the ends. If you make the Phone something capital and primary, your true I becomes diminished.

When "I" and my "phone" have fused into one, when I identify myself by the type of phone I use, I am no longer a capital I. Instead, I have allowed my G-dly self to become trivialized and sullied by the subjective mire of the earthly human experience. I am no longer in touch with my higher self and true greatness, but with smallness and pettiness, a diminutive i, a shadow of what I once was as a child and what I can choose to be right now if I will only allow my human body to reflect its true exclusive role as vehicle to my soul. My body exists to express G-dliness, to help the neshama attain her Divine mission.In doing so, the body achieves union with the Divine, something that will only be empirically experienced in the Era of Moshiach.

Following this logic, my mobile apparatus also exists solely to help me fulfill my G-d-given mission, as do my clothes, my home, and every other implement in my life. It is here to help me heal a fractured world, tikun olam, to communicate a kind word, a Torah thought, a chassidic story. It's here to help me teach a fellow human being how to observe the Seven Noahide Laws, or to help a fellow Jew keep kosher, say Shema, learn about Moshiach. It's here so I can utilize my time wisely, so that during my Friday rush hour commute I may call my Mom and wish her a Good Shabbos, or reach out to my sister in Hong Kong and convey warm wishes, so that I may call a friend who has been ill and wish him well and inquire into his needs and how I may be of help.

It is not about me. It's about doing what G-d wants. And consequently, I attain true capital siginificance, independent and irrespective of the phone I may or may not use. And the phone remains precisely that, a simple tool, and not a status symbol, catchphrase, diversion or addiction.

No, the smart phone doesn't make me smart, nor does the iPhone make me a better me. If I am truly ready to be me and be smart, I will separate the I from the phone. Diminish, detach or discard the phone and return to I.

Happy unplugging. Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Are you smarter because of your smart phone?

Does my smart phone make me smarter?
Does my internet connectivity truly make me more connected?
Am I a better "I" because of my iPhone?
Bottom line: does my fancy phone make me a more genuine person, or more phony?

I marvel at how many mediums of communication now lie at my fingertips.

For example, if I choose to, I can call my sister in Hong Kong, some eight thousand miles away, with the press of a single button on my mobile device. In fact, I can choose to call her cell phone, her landline or her VOIP line. In fact, I could even skype or video conference her.

By why bother doing any of the above? That would require wating and talking (two rather onerous activities). I could save time and energy by simply sending her a SMS text message. Alternatively, I could text her for free via Blackberry messaging, instant messaging, or with another internet application. Or, I could opt to facebook her, tweet her, or even send her an old fashioned email? (Remember those?)

Wow! That's over ten ways I could quite easily reach out to my sister accross the world, and in some cases, get a nearly instant response, provided that I attempt communication at an appropriate time of day -- after all, she is twelve time zones away from me, even thought the mobile device makes it sound like she's around the corner.

But you know the strangest thing? All these mediums of communication haven't made me a better communicator. At times, I still feel as though I have a hard time communicating with my own sister.

Do we get along better because of the new and improved modern methods of communication? Not necessarily.

The same thing with "smartness" and smart phones. Are we becomer a smarter nation because of our increased reliance on so-called smart phones? Are the some 50+ percent of Americans who reportedly use smart phones more intelligent than their dumb-phone or no-phone peers?

I read recently that nationwide SAT scores (if that is an indcator for anything) have been decreasing in recent years. Literacy rates have been falling as well. Are we Americans smarter in the present era of widespread smart phone use?

I suspect that smart phone use has no bearing on human intelligence, and perhaps, quite contrarily, it can have a deleterious effect, like excessive TV viewing or gaming. Perhaps, the more intelligent one truly is, the less reliant on (or addicted to?) mobile devices and social media he will be.

Speaking of social media, the few times over the past number of years that I ventured onto Facebook, I was apalled by the sheer stupidity and trivial shallowness of many of my "Facebook Friends." Doesn't anyone have anything better to do with their time than air their every mindless whim, every inconsequential, frivolous, or silly thought or experience of their day? Moreover, doesn't anyone have anything more important to do than idly read the drivel that others shamelessly post and share with others?

Our Sages taught in Avot 3:13: "A fence around wisdom is silence." Modern devices might make it easier to talk but might in fact be removing a fence that is intended to preserve our wisdom. Maybe, just maybe, all these new-and-improved methods of self expression are jeapordizing our innermost selves, our inner wisdom that is safeguarded when we speak less, not more.

Our Sages observed that man was created with two eyes, two nostrils, two ears, but just one mouth. Half of what one might be inclined to say should not be spoken. Morever, commented the Chofetz Chaim, two ears and one mouth instruct us that to effectively communicate with another, one ought to do double the amount of listening as one does talking. With all endless and idle chatter of social media, one might wonder if we are forgetting how to listen and empathize, how to ponder, meditate, or reflect. How could we? We are too busy "communicating," that is, broadcasting an endless stream of nonsensical tweets, posts, texts, emails, or comments. In a virtual world of pseudo communication, have we forgotten how to truly be present and sensitive to the needs and feelings of a peer or loved one?

My firends, tonight do something smart. Put away the phone and spend quality time with your spouse, your child, your friend. Be present. Learn how to listen more and talk less. Save the texts, emails and social media for worktime. Unplug and learn how to enjoy silent freedom from the inexorable cacaphony of mobile networks, internet or cable. Attend a Torah class, join a minyan, take a walk in the park. Listen to an inpiring Torah thought or chassidic melody.

Now that's smart!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Musings on this year's Boston Marathon

That's musings. Tragically, this year's Marathon was anything but amusing.

But to be quite honest, I have never found much amusement in watching marathons. It's not that I don't respect the athletes who train for and pull off the whopping twenty-six mile achievement. While I might admire their perseverence, I don't enjoy watching someone do something I'd personally have no interest in doing. To me, the thought of subjecting your body to the sheer exertion and wear and tear of a grueling 26-mile run seems rather pointless. No offense to my fellow New Englanders who enjoy participaing in or watching the marathon, but in my couch-potato mentality, to run such an unthinkable distance just in order to cross an irrelevant finish line is hardly a worthwhile pursuit -- meaningless, if not downright eccentric.

Consequently, I did not go to watch this year's Boston Marathon, even though I live on Route 135 not far from the starting line, and work a block away from Beacon St, the last stretch of the race, less than two miles away from the finish line.

However, I too was affected by the horrific bombings in our vicinity. Our school went into lockdown mode, and was on high security alert several days thereafter. (On Friday's city-wide lockdown four days later, our school was obviously closed.) Driving home from work on Tuesday afternoon, I discovered that virtually every single Boston radio station was discussing the tragedy. No one could believe that this atrocity, the likes of which might sound commonplace for warzones like Afghanistan or Iraq, could have happened right here in our city, at the finish line of our marathon. At that point, there were no suspects, so no one could  fathom the motive behind the bloody attack. Like everyone else, I was in a daze, struggling to comprehend what had occured.

I tuned into one station. The talkshow host posed a question to her listeners. "What do you think about what happend yesterday? What do you think about the race now?" she asked. "Has your opinion of the race changed after yesterday's tragedy?"

Only half listening, half distracted in my doleful reverie, I actually thought she was talking about the human race. Sadly I mused, "My opinion of the human race has taken a sharp turn for the worse."

Indeed, I thought, what kind of defective human being seeks to mass-murder and inflict such horrific suffering on innocent and defenseless civilians, including young children and their mothers? What does that say about our race, all of us Homo sapiens, if one of our own is capable of such unspeakable evil? A new low for our race, I muttered under my breath, sitting in Boston traffic spawned by street closures due to the 16-block crime scene.

After several listners called in and expressed their views, that (sic) "next year's race will be better than ever," "Bostonians are resillient," etc., I realized that "race" was referring to the marathon race, not the human one.

That realization did not stop me from wondering about the mindboggling potential for evil that exists in our human race. In fact, it seemed like an appropriate word association. In yesterday's race, I concluded, humanity is the big loser. We have all lost the (human) race. If a fellow human can perpetrate such evil, then we are all losers, since all of us belong to this loser race.

This dismal thought crippled my imagination the entire ride home. I simply could not think of any redeeming argument with which to vindicate our deplorable humankind, a race that produces Hitlers, jihadists, mass murderes, and Boston Marathon bombers. And why stop there? What about all the other millions of defective human beings, like pedaphiles, rapists, pathological criminals, and all the other garden-variety thugs who sully our planet?

(As I now reconsider these morbid thoughts nearly a week later, I recall the recent report of Friday's dramatic capture of the surviving suspect from inside a neighbor's backyard boat, lying in a pool of blood. He had been shot in the neck during the car chase, and was located by the neighbor because of the trail of blood. Red blood, just as red as mine or yours. What does that say about the redness of our blood, and the inexorable human penchant for mercilessly shedding the blood of others?)

Later that day, I sat down at the computer and instictively clicked on the news. Images and video footage of the horrific bombing scenes met my eye. Then I saw something that was unbelievable, so much so that I had to rewind and watch it again. Immediately after the explosion, people were rushing toward the explosion to help the victims. It was incredible to me that people would be running toward the site of one then two explosions, without any regard to their own safety. I continued to read various eyewitness accounts online that all described this very phenomenon.

Then I read the most extraordinary account of a woman who had just completed the marathon herself. As soon as she realized what was going on, she turned back toward the finish line and raced toward the bloody scene to help the victims. Having a medical background (I can't remember now whether she was a med-student or a young physician), her immediate instinct was to assist the wounded in any way she could. Fearing more attacks in the pandemonium that ensued, the police tried to prevent her from entering, but she was able to run around their blockade and reach the victims. The reporter later asked her: "How could you have the strength to run there? Hadn't you just run twenty-six miles?"

She responded: "Yes, I was exhausted. But as soon as I realized there were people in dire need, I sprinted. I simply didn't feel my throbbing legs. It wasn't about me."

I was dumbstruck. In today's post-9/11 world, when a bomb explodes, one's instict is to run and seek cover. To rush toward the site of multiple explosions, amidst fears of yet more undetonated bombs, seems counterintuitive and self-endangering. I was awed by the selfless sense of responsibility displayed by the hundreds of first responders.*

It was at that moment that I realized that this race indeed has winners.I'm not talking about Mr. Benti or Ms. Jeptoo, or all the other athletes who completed the Boston Marathon prior to the bombings. They won another type of race, one that is far less consequential to the future of our human race.

I am referring to these selfless indiviuals who put their lives on the line and rushed to the finish line-bomb scene from all directions to assist and to save. They are truly the winners of the race.

In fact, the very fact that such selfless courage exists and was proudly displayed last week in Boston means that we are all winners. Our race may produce losers capable of unimaginable evil, but it also produces true winners capable of inimaginable and unprecedented good.

But who will ultimately prevail? The losers or the winners? Will the losers make us all lose, or will the winners make us all win?

It is my steadfast belief that the power of good will win.

The Torah teaches that ultimately good always prevails over evil. That's why G-d said that He remembers the evil deeds of an evil-doer until the fourth generation, while the virtues of a good doer is remembered for two thousand generations! (Rashi on Exodus 34:7) Do the math. That means that the power of good is five-hundred times greater than the power of evil.

So the winners will win, and the losers will lose. That's just the way it goes in races. Let's cast our lot with the winners.

A selfless act, a kind word to a neighbor, assistance to a fellow human being in need, a mitzvah, a blessing with heartfelt sincerity, daily tzedakah, an unsolicited act of goodness and kindess. That's all it takes.

It'll get us to that long-awaited finish line, the times of Moshiach, when true peace, harmony and mutual respect will reign supreme. Bloodshed and violence will be but fleeting memories of the distant past, while jealosy and hatred will finally disappear behind the cobwebs of posterity.

In the ultimate victory of the human race, we will learn to love each other. False ideologies and artifical divisions between people will vanish, and we'll finally be able to appreciate the inherent G-dly unity of all peoples. Together we will make this world a home for G-d it was intended to be. Humankind's primary pursuit will be to know G-d according to the highest human potential (see Maimonides, Laws of Kings, chapter 12). "G-d will wipe away the tears from every eye" and heal our broken hearts.

May it be speedily in our days. Amen.

* This is underscored in this past Shabbat's Torah portion, Parshat Kedoshim. The Torah states: "Lo taamod al dam reyecha." Literally that means: "Don't stand over your fellow's blood," i.e. don't stand by inactively "when you see your fellow in life-threatening danger, and you are able to save him" (Rashi). The Rebbe asked: why does the Torah state this commandment in the negative, "Don't stand..."? Why not a positive commandment,"Save your fellow's life!", or something similar? Explained the Rebbe: the Biblical obligation to save one's fellow from danger is implicit and does not need to be stated. The Torah is replete with commandments to help your fellow man in distress, load his donkey, sustain him in his time of need, etc. Here the Torah is alluding to a situation in which one might indeed deem it necessary to "stand by" and refrain from saving one's fellow, for example, if there is possible danger to the rescuer. Should one expose himself to possible harm in attempt to rescue his fellow from certain harm? Here the Torah enjoins us: "Don't stand by when your fellow's life is at stake!" If you are indeed "able to save him," go do it, even if it entails personal risk.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lesson from the Horsemeat Scandal

A horse is a horse, of course, of course.

But what's in your hamburger? Or should I say, "horse-burger?"

No, I'm not horsing around. Google "UK horsemeat scandal" for a plethora of recent news items.

Horsemeat has somehow entered the European food supply chain and has been fraudulently labeled as beef. From the British Isles to Poland, Spain to Scandinavia, Europe is reeling from shock and disgust over widespread equine consumption. Horsemeat has been found in a variety of food products, including lasagna and TV dinners. In fact, many products sold in supermarkets and restaurants throughout Europe claiming to be 100% cowmeat -- such as Angus hamburgers and meatballs -- were in fact entirely horse.

Where's the beef, you ask? That's a good question. No one's sure what happened to it, and how it got replaced with horsemeat. Interestingly, lots of pork was found illegally marked as beef too, but for some strange reason, no outcry was heard. Europeans must have a soft spot for swine. (Donkey meat has allegedly been found too, and the list may be growing.)

And now, the widening scandal is spreading to Asia and the Wild Middle East. Will it soon be "Giddeyup Morsi?" (I sure hope so.)

It's not just about mislabeling and deceiving consumers. It's also a public health concern. Apparently, a drug called phenylbutazone, also known as "bute," has been found in numerous horses slaughtered in the UK, and is thought to have entered to human food chain. Used as an anti-inflammatory painkiller for sporting horses, bute has been banned for animals intended for eventual human consumption, as it is may be harmful in large concentrations.

Do you think your meat is safer here in the US? I remember back in the seventies when a variety of non-bovine meat was allegedly found in "beef" dishes in fastfood chains across the US. Just last year, US consumers awoke to news reports of so-called "pink slime" in our food chain, labeled as "beef." Although pink slime, officially known as "lean finely textured beef," does come from cow, it does not necessarily come from muscle tissue, what one would normally call "meat," but from cartilage, connective tissue and sinew. Sounds kind of slimy to me.

As far as the current horsemeat scare is concerned, no horsey surprises have been found in the US food supply just yet, but that might just be because there are no horse abattoirs in the US. Americans aren't particularly fond of horses for eating, but just for riding, according to a recent "Gallop" poll (just kidding).

But all horse jokes aside, how can you be sure what you're eating, anyway? Can you trust the USDA (or what ever the British version is) to ensure that you're actually getting what you think you're buying? Well, some folks think that government quality control is infallible, but I say they're backing the wrong horse. And thanks to relying on Euro-govt "quality control," the wrong horse has ended up on their very own dinner plates.

Society has always told us not to put the proverbial cart before the horse. But for crying out loud, don't put the horse into your shopping cart.

I know for some, fast food and frozen dinners are an excuse to "eat like a horse." But for goodness steak, don't eat the horse!!

Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to beat a dead horse or anything. Nor am I anti-government. I certinaly appreciate the USDA's efforts to keep us safe, and far be it from me to look the gift horse in the mouth. But all I'm saying is, we cannot rely on government agencies alone to certify what we put into our bellies. Trusting government to keep us healthy might just be a modern Trojan Horse. And health isn't just bodily. There's spiritual health too. If you're Jewish, to ensure maximal spiritual and bodily health, there's only one way to go: kosher.

Several years ago, I had a discussion with a friend about why to only buy strictly kosher meat. After explaining the criteria of kosher animals, the rules of shechita (ritual slaughter) and koshering process, and the spiritual benefit of keeping kosher, I also explained that kosher meat requires constant supervision of a mashgiach (a reliable, Torah-observant Jewish individual who serves as kosher supervisor) until it is packaged, sealed and labeled. We then discussed other foods like dairy and fish that require hashgacha t'midit, constant supervision, in order for the consumer to be ensured that they are indeed kosher.

My friend was sceptical. "What are the chances of pig or horse milk entering the human food supply?" he scoffed.

Quite frankly, after last week's news, nothing would surprise me.

From a kosher perspective, however, no one should be alarmed about the horsemeat scandal. You see, non-kosher beef is every bit as treif (unkosher) as horse, ham or donkey.

If you buy kosher, the hechsher (Rabbinic seal of approval) vouches for the authenticity and kashrut of the beef you're buying. And if you don't buy kosher, well, then you may just as well be eating horsemeat anyway, from a kosher perspective, at least. So quit beefing about it.

We have a giant supermarket here in Northborough that claims to sells kosher meat in its deli. The only problem is that there is no kosher butcher, and the kosher meat is removed from its original packaging, cut up and put on display. The supermarket's butcher does have seperate knives and cutting boards that he claims only to use for the kosher products. But alas, according to the strict laws of kashrut, due to its lack of hashgacha supervision, the so-called "kosher" deli meat is 100% NOT kosher.

I've discussed this with numerous local Jews. Many people have argued that while it may not be authentically kosher, it's (sic) "close enough for me."

Well, to this I say: "close" only counts in horseshoes.

Bottom line: if you really want to avoid horse for your main course, you just gotta just adhere to a higher source -- the Torah, perforce.

It's time to beef up our kosher observance, folks.

Ok, some of you might be thinking: "Hey come on, rabbi! Get off your high horse. You can buy kosher meat galore in Jewishly-saturated neighborhoods like Brookline or Newton, but we live out here in horse country. No kosher butcher here for of miles."

To you I say, whoa! Hold your horses. How do you know there's nothing kosher nearby? Have you checked in your local supermarkets? You may be pleasantly surprised. If they don't stock it, maybe if you apply pressure, they might agree to carry it. I have recently found kosher poultry and beef in the most unlikely of places, like Walmart, Trader Joes and Stop 'n Shop.

If there's a will, there's a way. Throughout our long history, Jews have managed to keep kosher in the most remote and exotic of locations, from the Wild West to the Far East, in the best of times and the worst of times. Certainly in twenty-first century suburban USA with an all-time high percentage of food items sold in average supermarkets being kosher, one can put forth the effort and manage to keep kosher.

No one ever said being Jewish is easy. So stop kvetching and experience the joys of kosher living!

It doesn't have to be "all or nothing." One can begin keeping kosher observances gradually, "yiddle by yiddle," as they say.

A Jewish family struggling to find their comfort level in Jewish observance once confided to their rabbi: "We keep a strictly kosher kitchen, but we sometimes eat out..."

Replied the rabbi: "Then you have kosher pots and a treife boich!" (an un-kosher belly).

When told the same comment by a congregant, Rabbi H. Fogelman of Worcester, MA, once responded : "Then I guess you're dishes will go to heaven."

Sigh. I guess you can lead a horse to the water...

But in all seriousness, Jewish observance doesn't have to be 100% or zero. It's not just "Yea or Neigh."

Take baby steps. Start by cutting out pork, seafood, and shall I say, horsemeat. Then begin to seperate between dairy and meat. Then eliminate treife chickens and beef altogether. In short time, you'll be champing at the bit to "go kosher" entirely.

Don't feel you're too set in your ways to make a change. In Judaism, it's never too late to change horses midstream.

Not surprisingly, in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, kosher meat sales are surging in the UK (according to an article I read today on Here in the US, kosher consumption has been on the rise for years. According to a recent statistic I read, a whopping 85% percent of kosher consumers in the US aren't even Jewish! Everyone's catching on.

So whether you're pedestrian or quedestrian or equestrian, trot over to your local kosher food store and buy Kosher.

If you're a novice, gallop over to a reliable website to learn the rules of kosher, like this one.

Better yet, visit your local rabbi for kosher instruction. It's always better to hear it straight from the horse's -- I mean rabbi's -- mouth.

And while you're at it, why not prance over to shul and attend a crash course on the laws of kosher (but please don't crash on the way, specially if you're horseback).

As for me, I'll continue to whinny until I'm hoarse, "Keep Kosher!"

PS: all this horse talk reminds us to get ready for the two upcoming Jewish holidays: Purim and Passover. Purim -- Mordechai led on king's royal stallion. Passover -- don't forget the horseradish.