Escaping the Amish – Part 2

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(Photo: Stuck in Customs)

This is the final continuation of Part 1, where Torah Bontrager — who escaped the Old Order Amish culture to attend Columbia University — explained common misconceptions and myths about the Amish, as well as the pros and cons of being raised in this alternative American culture.

Here we chronicle the actual escape…

This two-part piece is not intended to generalize all Amish. It is a chronicle of one person’s experiences with the common constraints and abuses of the Old Order Amish, leading to escape. Please see Torah’s follow-up comments here for more important details.

How did you finally escape?

I had three paternal uncles who left when they were young. One of them lived in Montana. I’d only met him once, when I was eleven, but I just knew he would be the one to help me escape.

We were allowed to have phones in the barn (you’d go to hell with a phone in the house, but God was cool with it in the barn, apparently). One day, when I was fourteen, I sneaked into my dad’s desk, copied down my Montana uncle’s number, and called him collect. I knew that whatever long-distance number you dialed showed up on the phone bill unless you called collect.

For about a year, I’d wait until everyone in the house was fast asleep, then I’d sneak down the stairs. Believe me, I knew every creak and groan in the staircase and how to avoid them—I also sprayed WD-40 on the door hinges and the window. I’d crawl out the bathroom window after flushing the toilet to cover the sound and run outside to the barn. Then I’d call my uncle and we’d talk. Of course, he said I could stay with him.

There was still the problem of the law, though—my parents could just scoop me back up.

My dad got the daily paper, and my mom caught me reading it once. She beat me for what she deemed open signs of rebellion. Following that, I’d wait until my mom took her nap and then I’d read the paper from cover to cover.

One day, when I was fifteen, the front-page article covered the case of a sixteen-year-old boy who essentially divorced his parents. He was awarded limited emancipation because of having been abused by them. The article said that you could get emancipated based on physical, verbal or sexual abuse, educational deprivation, and a few other conditions as well. If you were emancipated, you had all the rights of an eighteen-year-old.

The instant I read it, I thought “Ah, ha! This is how I can leave before I’m eighteen and go to high school.” So I called my uncle. He hadn’t heard of the case, but he called his attorney and luckily, Montana was one of the handful of states where the new law was in effect. So I could leave Michigan to live in Montana to be a free person.

Then I just needed a plan.

How did it all come together?

One night, I was talking to one of my three uncles, who lived in Wisconsin, and I told him that I couldn’t stand being Amish anymore, that I’d had it, and that — if I could — I’d leave that night.

Then he said something I wasn’t expecting at all—“Well, if I drove over tonight to pick you up, would you go?”

I called my Montana uncle and told him I’d be leaving that night. I took my birth certificate, Social Security Number and vaccination record out of my dad’s safe (my Montana uncle had told me I’d need these for going to high school). I packed two small boxes to take with me, which contained all the worldly possessions dear to me.

You can’t imagine what an ordeal it was to go down those god-awful creaky stairs (even the wonders of WD-40 couldn’t save that old staircase), cross over the god-awful creaky dining room floor, slip through the god-awful creaky kitchen door, all the time doing everything I could to keep from just making a dash for the door.

Luckily, the fridge — yes, we were allowed to have fridges — kicked in just when I was trying to figure out how to cover the noise of the kitchen door. I had so much adrenaline rushing through my blood that I was losing control of myself. The only thing I could think of during those last few moments was that the other side of the door was freedom.

Outside. Freedom was so close, I could smell it. I tore across the yard, heading straight toward the road.

I ran about a quarter mile down the road until I reached the creek where my uncle was designated to wait for me. I stopped only once, for just a second, to look back. I debated whether I wanted to look back—I was afraid I’d jinx myself if I did—but then I thought: this is a huge moment in my life and I want to take just one more look at the homestead.

I paused, turned around and looked. Everything was quiet. No movement, no noise, no lights on in the house, nothing. I was safe. No one knew I wasn’t up in my room sound asleep. I took off again as fast as I could to where my uncle’s car was parked.

He wasn’t there! He must have come and gone without me! My heart almost stopped.

Then I saw a little light from the car door opening. He had parked off the road. I ran towards the car, jumped in the front passenger seat, and we were off.

It was about an 8-hour drive to Wisconsin where he and his family lived. I spent two days with them. My aunt took me shopping for clothes. I’ll never forget the first time I wore a pair of jeans. I couldn’t believe how comfortable they were. I also got my picture taken, the only photo I have of me in Amish clothes. On the second day, they put me on the train out to my Montana uncle.

In two days, I was in Montana.

I was free, and my new life began.

Why do you want people to know your story?

Because the general public is not properly educated about what goes on inside the Amish, which it makes it a million times harder for individuals (especially women and children) to receive the assistance they need, whether that’s before or after they leave.

What continues to make it even worse are people like me — someone who is Amish and has the resources and know-how available — who does nothing about it.

It’s bothered me ever since, so I’ve decided to speak up now and spread awareness about this issue.

###

Posted on: July 17, 2008.

Comments are closed.

100 comments on “Escaping the Amish – Part 2

  1. “(you’d go to hell with a phone in the house, but God was cool with it in the barn, apparently)” LOL!

    Maybe God wants your attention to be firewalled in true 4HWW style?

    Thanks for this story!

    Like

  2. Tim,

    This isn’t related to your blog post.

    But, you put this out on Twittter, then I realized you’re not following anyone, so you wouldn’t see this answer. I didn’t see a way to email you directly.

    This isn’t a night life suggestion…but, I highly recommend the “wind tunnel” in Orlando. Have you done it before? It would be a great topic to blog about.

    Great work!

    Mary

    Like

  3. before we have another 3,000 posts that say “well, i’m NOT amish, and aren’t an expert, BUT i know this can’t be true…”

    please just stop and listen to yourselves for a second, and perhaps you will realize how ridiculous your statements are before you post them.

    and those who will devalue or try to diminish this woman’s experience from behind their keyboard, please also stop and listen to yourselves.

    Like

  4. Great post! I’m glad you’re spreading awareness about this issue. It’s not just the amish. Many many children are abused, physically and mentally, every single day in the name of religion. Just saying “these are our beliefs” certainly shouldn’t give parents a free pass to abuse their kids.

    Joe

    Like

  5. Tim, thanks so much for sharing this story… For giving the opportunity to Torah to share her story. Let’s hope the interest snowballs and exposure grows.

    Like

  6. Yeah i worked for the amish for awhile.. driver & construction.

    they are f*ing insane. and thats about the nicest thing i can say about them.

    Like

  7. Thanks for sharing your story. Few people have the personal courage to break away from the circumstances into which they are born. And some don’t listen to the voice that tells them to stay alive until they can reach a better place. I’m glad you did.

    Like

  8. Until Torah’s book comes out, I’d recommend to anyone interested in the subject that they check out the documentary movie “Devil’s Playground” which gives a fascinating glimpse into Amish teen culture during their period of Rumspringa, where some Amish teens are allowed to taste the life of the “English.”

    Like

  9. I thought the Amish shunned members who go apostate, especially the more strict orders. Why would Torah’s father keep his brothers’ phone numbers?

    As far as I’ve heard, the different Amish orders reject technology to whatever degree they feel it could interfere with their spiritual lives and their sense of community. It’s more personal to go and visit when you want to talk to someone than simply picking up the phone. The phone is probably kept in the barn strictly for business use. The Amish have reasons of their own for what they do, and it’s the depth of ignorance to mock something that you’re clueless about simply because it’s different from what you’re familiar with.

    Torah’s story is definitely inspiring and gripping, but I have a sense that she’s not being completely up front with us. I’m not saying her parents were right to beat her, but it sounds like she developed a taste for the “English” life early on, and her parents may have been very worried and afraid for her, and tried to beat what they saw as rebelliousness out of her. Stuff like that happens every day in the non-Amish world, so we don’t have to look down our noses at them for being like many of us in that respect.

    Like many readers have commented, the Amish are across-the-board awful. I happen to have met one young woman who, against incredible resistance from both the Amish community and her parents, JOINED an Amish community, and she was very happy. She said her parents eventually came around.

    I greatly admire Torah’s bravery in choosing the life she wants to live, but I’m not willing to buy a wholesale condemnation of a culture based on one person’s perception, especially one who was a teenager at the time.

    Like

  10. This is an amazing story. It’s so sad to think that some people in such negative situations (in every culture, of course) do not have that kind of strength/bravery to leave. Best of luck to Torah and Project Amish!

    Like

  11. Great story Torah, thank you very much for sharing.

    All the best with your book, I look forward to reading the whole story, and life ahead.

    I’m very glad to see you pointed out all the positives from growing up Amish. I truly believe that enduring such hardships makes us a much better person.

    Like

  12. I’m with Hayden. I’d be curious to see what my parents reaction was. I suppose that after you’re free and legal, you could go back and find out. But why would you want to return? Hmmm…
    Maybe just send them an email?? ;0)

    Like

  13. I find it incredibly patronizing and dismissive for commenters to have such an outcry about these articles. Torah is telling her story and all you can do is pipe up in defense of a group that is, at best, condemning their children to a life of authoritarianism, ignorance, and isolation. They don’t allow their children to pursue education. How is that not a violation of their human rights?

    I left a cult as well and when I try to speak about what happened to me on the inside, I get the same thing. Silencing.

    Like

  14. Wow.
    I got goosebumps reading about Torah’s ordeal.
    I wish her well in her new life!

    By the way, are have you made a stop in Vancouver yet?
    If you are, check out the Vancouver Folk Music fest this weekend at Jericho beach.
    Jericho beach is gorgeous!

    Like

  15. My parents live on an acreage near Pine City, MN, and they used to have neighbors who were Amish. He was a buggy maker, and they farmed quite a bit of land.

    Being a Christian family, we enjoyed each others company… although we had our differences in beliefs, we still respected them and were still able to talk about the Bible, sing songs together, have campfires, play “Rook”, and generally enjoyed each others company.

    They moved away to a small town in Wisconsin to get away from the growing Twin Cities area, which was making it more difficult for them to live in relative seclusion.

    We still get Christmas cards and hand-written letters from them each year.

    And their pies and baked goods were awesome! Though I don’t think they’d qualify as health food… and, from looking at their figures, you could tell they weren’t on the South Beach Diet!

    The men and boys were as strong as oxes! They worked hard all day long in the fields or in the buggy shop, while the women and girls worked mostly inside baking, cooking, cleaning, sewing, quilting, etc.

    They had a peculiar odor, which you’d expect from someone who works hard all day and doesn’t wear Right Guard.

    We weren’t aware of any abuse that occurred in their family, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was some of that in their greater community. I’m also not aware of anyone from their family (Marty Yoder’s family) who ended up leaving the Amish community. Last I checked, I think they had 12 kids from the ages of 27 to 10 or 11.

    Like

  16. Tim;
    A really compelling story. It’s one of those little side roads in American life that we miss if we’re busy going “90 miles an hour” all the time. Thanks for bringing it to us and thanks to Torah for her courage. Hopefully things are going good for her now.

    I also wanted to add further insight to the quote “Spare the rod and spoil the child”. I think it has it’s basis in Proverbs 13:24 “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”

    One of the things that is easier to do than falling off a floating log is to take the Bible out of context. The world is full of people that create their own little world by doing that. It’s good to remember that when asked by a lawyer in the Jewish council, “What is the greatest commandment?”, Jesus replied “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:34-40) Love is the foundation to real Christianity. Any father who confuses child abuse (rocking over a son’s toe with a rocking chair) with love through measured discipline is a hypocrite of the worst order.

    Like

  17. I am very confused by the anachronisms in this story. the phone in the barn is not surprising, I have heard of Amish with cell phones as long as they where charged and used outside the home.

    the likely reason for it being in the barn is dealing with connection and reliance on power lines and telephone lines. a phone is seen by SOME Amish communities as a tool like a hammer or saw that maybe seen as a great improvement over mail or face to face communication for dealing with business with the ‘English’ or far off Amish communites.

    I am some what surprised that you not only had wd-40 but where able to use it to such an extent. first off it has a distinct smell, so you may have been putting yourself in greater danger then with out it. additionally it does not function a great deal better then other types of grease or oils that would be more common in an Amish community.

    the fridge being in your home is almost the most shocking thing since it flies most in the face of the connected to power lines. I have NEVER heard of any electricity in an Amish home. sometimes in the barn for work tools, but never in a home.

    and one other issue I have is that your family kept in touch with relatives who left the community. why keep up to date contact info and family gatherings with hell-bound individuals?

    it seems very odd that your community is so liberal with some things and draconian with other things. why would it be evil to have a phone in your house when you have electricity inside? I would not be surprised if you where not actually from an Amish community, but simply a community that used the Amish name.

    Like

  18. I also have another issue with this story:

    why did you have a social security card? Amish are federally recognized as exempt from social security tax, so there would be no reason to have it. since it seems unlikely that your parents would want you to have it to get a job, there is no need for it as an official identification.

    this kept sticking out for me since I have heard that getting a social security card is one of the first things that former Amish need to get. this is a really odd story.

    Like

  19. Good thing we don’t have to worry about her parents reading this blog post…

    Thank you, thank you. Terrific audience tonight.

    Like

  20. Great personal story. It will not only make a great book, but I can see a movie as well…

    …one open question is how did your parents react? They had the phone numbers of your uncles who assisted your escape, certainly there were conversations. How did those go?

    Like your uncles, are you in touch with them at all? It seems that they left and still maintained a relationship with their family, have you done so?

    But thanks again for sharing a heck of a personal journey.

    Like

  21. Tim and Torah – thank you so much for speaking out and publishing this article – I truly hope that it saves other children from the abuse.
    Best to you,
    Julie

    Like

  22. Joshua,

    All children born in the US are required to have a birth certificate and then a social security number.

    At least that’s what Lord Google tells me.

    http://www.amish.net/faq.asp

    Torah’s story is more common than most people think. What she faced in the physical world is what most people face every single day in their own world. They just don’t see it.

    Most people grow up, contained in this “suppose to” world. You’re “suppose to” go to college, you’re “suppose to” get a job, you’re “suppose to” get married, you’re “suppose to” have a mortgage . . . you’re “suppose to” work for 40 years before you retire . . . .

    Any deviation from this existence is enough to send people into a panic. The paradigm they have accepted of the world is absolute. This paradigm is usually accepted from parents, school administrators or in Torah’s case the religious establishment.

    For someone to reject their paradigm and adopt a new one takes courage. The transition is rarely smooth. People oftentimes face ridicule and possibly rejection not only from their piers but their family. Undoubtedly Torah would have faced physical repercussions as well had she been caught.

    But nothing could possibly replace that feeling of being free: of being able to declare that your life is truly your own and you will lead it how you see fit.

    Hopefully Torah’s book will answer all the questions which now lurk in my head. Did her parents come after her in Montana? Was there a court battle? Has her parents finally accepted her decision or is she now dead to them?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    Like

  23. Tim, thanks for sharing this fascinating story with us. I just started following your blog a few days ago and it’s already been valuable. I’ve placed your RSS feed on the sidebar of my own blog.

    Torah, I’ll be buying your book when it comes out. I grew up in the countryside of Ohio and practically lived among the Amish as a kid. This is interesting to me since I mostly saw, as you pointed out to another reader, the side of them that they want us to see.

    Well…except for that one group of Amish who got absolutely hammered on Friday nights and street-raced their buggies down the straight stretch by the creek. The cops even came to watch, if I remember correctly. Made quite a story to tell when I moved to downtown Miami, as you can imagine.

    Thanks again…

    Like

  24. To ‘Matt V.’ who says:
    “Until Torah’s book comes out, I’d recommend to anyone interested in the subject that they check out the documentary movie “Devil’s Playground” which gives a fascinating glimpse into Amish teen culture during their period of Rumspringa, where some Amish teens are allowed to taste the life of the “English.”
    Thanks for mentioning this. I highly recommend Devil’s Playground. The director, Lucy Walker, did an absolutely fabulous job with this. She got content that I never thought would be possible for a non-Amish to get.
    NOTE: The film is 99% accurate. The 1% that’s not accurate is that the film doesn’t make a distinction between Rumspringa in the smaller communities (in general) vs. the bigger communities (in general).
    A) Teens in most smaller communities don’t have the peer support to experiment with the outside world like the teens in most bigger communities do, and B) the teens aren’t actually allowed to experiment with the outside world but i) there are too many teens so the parents don’t have any control over them, and ii) this has been happening for generations so the parents more or less expect their kids to experiment as well, even though the parents don’t actually want their kids to interact with the outside nor give them permission to do so.

    Torah

    Like

  25. To ‘tulasi-priya’ who says the following:

    “Torah’s story is definitely inspiring and gripping, but I have a sense that she’s not being completely up front with us. I’m not saying her parents were right to beat her, but it sounds like she developed a taste for the “English” life early on, and her parents may have been very worried and afraid for her, and tried to beat what they saw as rebelliousness out of her. Stuff like that happens every day in the non-Amish world, so we don’t have to look down our noses at them for being like many of us in that respect.”

    Any type of physical abuse is a crime. It doesn’t matter how severe or light it is. Physical abuse is physical abuse. Unfortunately, the general level of severity within the Amish is appallingly high. The Amish who do so truly believe that they are disciplining their children when in fact it’s simply physical abuse. I am at a loss to see how anyone can ever justify physically abusing any being, or condoning such abuse.

    Torah

    Like

  26. To ‘tulasi-priya’ who says the following:

    “I thought the Amish shunned members who go apostate, especially the more strict orders. Why would Torah’s father keep his brothers’ phone numbers?”

    As I commented elsewhere, how one who leaves the Amish is received by practicing Amish varies from community to community, family to family and individual to individual.

    The main reason my father had his brothers’ phone numbers was for emergency purposes. E.g., To inform them of a death in the family (especially in the immediate family). This is not an uncommon practice in many Amish communities.

    Besides that, over the course of 15-20 years, my father’s father became much more welcoming toward his non-practicing children (especially after they had been gone for that long). Time tends to eventually make parents/family a little more receptive (again, this is a generality).
    Just fyi, my grandfather burned my two oldest uncles’ clothes after they escaped—symbolizing that they’re dead to him. Even though the uncles weren’t baptized in the church, they were shunned to the same degree as a baptized member would have been. However, after 15-20 had gone by, my grandfather became a lot more accepting. He’s still very far from approving; but relative to how he was in the beginning, he’s remarkably tolerant.

    Torah

    Like

  27. To ‘Hayden Tompkins’ who says the following:

    “Did you parents ever try contacting your uncles when you went missing? I guess my question is, did you ever find out what their reaction to you leaving was?”

    Yes and yes. These are questions that will be answered in the book. I apologize for leaving you hanging, but the answers are quite lengthy and complex. They’re good questions, hence why it’ll take a book to answer them. : )

    Torah

    Like

  28. Clifford,

    I have some issues with your source of data. your expert claims that you are required to have a ss card from age 5. lets put aside the fact that my own parents did not get cards for my sister or me until we where in our mid-teens, and instead look at a the SSA website.

    here you have a FAQ that states that “Anyone age 12 or older requesting an original Social Security number card must appear for an interview at a Social Security office, even if a parent or guardian will sign the application on the child’s behalf.” SSA. it could be a simple mistake, but it calls into question the credibility of the website.

    the reason I find it hard to believe that Torah had a social security card is that since August 13, 1965,the Amish have been given an exemption from social security taxes if they are self-employed. with that in mind, considering that Torah is female it seems unlikely that her parents expected her to work outside the home, so she would not need the card for employment.

    I have little doubt of a birth certificate. there have been centuries of recording births. I have issue only with SS cards, since the only reason to get one is to eligible to receive benefits. I could not find a requirement for the card, simply several places where they encourage getting it and offer what it is for.

    Like

  29. To ‘Rob’ who says the following:

    “I’m curious to know if Torah has seen her parents since she emancipated herself?”

    Yes, I see my parents about an average of once a year and usually I don’t spend more than 2 days with them. In the beginning, the primary reason I visited was because if I didn’t go, the only thing my siblings would know of me was what my father told them. I wanted them to know that I’m a good, decent person and not necessarily hell-bound like my father told them.
    My relationship with my father is still not good. We basically avoid speaking to each other when I visit. However, for political reasons, he tolerates it when I visit.

    My mother, on the other hand, made a 180 degree turn for the better after I escaped. I know that so far, the posts offer a very negative image of my mother. However, she truly took it to heart when I asked her to please not beat the kids when they do something wrong, that if she explains to them why they shouldn’t do xyz, they’ll understand. It’s not necessary to beat them. I have to say that the woman I most admire in the world is my mother. She has had to face an unbelievable amount of adversity in her life, and this as a practicing Amish from other practicing Amish. I am very proud of her that she considered what I had to say about physical abuse, as well as other issues that I’ve talked to her about over the years.

    I will elaborate in the book!

    Torah

    Like

  30. To ‘joshua’ who has a lot of questions:

    I was born in one of the strictest Old Order Amish communities and my parents moved to progressively more liberal communities, the last of which was one of the most liberal Older Order Amish communities. So I have personally experienced the extremes of the Old Order Amish. NOTE: I did not live in all the communities that fall between the two extremes but I did experience the range, something that the majority of Amish individuals never do. Most of them live in the same or similar community all their lives.

    a. The phone was in the barn because we lived in a liberal community that allowed us to have phones for business purposes. The phones could not be in the house; that would make it too tempting or easier to use the phone for non-business purposes. That the phones weren’t in the house had nothing to do with not having electricity.

    b. I’m not sure what argument you’re trying to make regarding WD-40, including how that could have put me in danger. WD-40 is as common of an item to have as a hammer, especially if your father works in construction (which mine did).

    c. We had a fridge because we lived in a liberal community that allowed us to have one. The fridge was not run by electricity but gas.

    d. >“and one other issue I have is that your family kept in touch with >relatives who left the community. why keep up to date contact info and >family gatherings with hell-bound individuals?”
    I encourage you and all readers to read my account carefully and not make assumptions or jump to illogical conclusions. All I said was that my father had my uncles’ phone numbers. It’s not logical to conclude from that statement that “[my] family kept in touch with relatives who left the community”, nor that my family had the numbers for the purpose of keeping up to date with my uncles or for having them at family gatherings.

    e. >it seems very odd that your community is so liberal with some things >and draconian with other things. why would it be evil to have a phone in >your house when you have electricity inside?

    See my response above and especially the one in d. about not making assumptions. We all make assumptions or jump to illogical conclusions; I know I do. But when it comes to the topic of the Amish, being very objective and paying very close attention to what it is that I actually said/say would be very helpful. Everyone has a certain image or belief about the Amish so when I (or another Amish person) says something that SEEMS to contradict said image or belief, it’s easy to replace in our minds what they actually said with what we want or expect them to have said.

    f. The Amish are indeed exempt from paying social security taxes but that doesn’t automatically mean that none of the Amish have social security cards, nor is it logical to conclude that there is therefore no reason to have one.

    I don’t know how widely spread the practice of getting a social security card is (this is something I will research) but in my particular family, we all got a social security number at birth. I will have to ask my dad what exactly his reason was for getting that for us but I suspect it might have been something to do with a tax write-off (but I could be wrong).

    Torah

    Like

  31. To ‘Clifford’ who says the following:

    “Torah’s story is more common than most people think. What she faced in the physical world is what most people face every single day in their own world. They just don’t see it.”

    I encourage all readers to read all of ‘Clifford’’s comments. ‘Clifford’ makes some very excellent points that should inspire anyone who reads the entry. I got very re-inspired. Thank you, ‘Clifford’!

    As for your questions at the end, they’re either answered elsewhere in my comments or they’re questions that will be answered in the book. I apologize for leaving you hanging, but the answers are quite lengthy and complex. That’s why it’ll take a book. : )

    Torah

    Like

  32. Woah, Crazy! That is an absolutely amazing story.

    I wish my immigration, ahem, heroic escape from Uzbekistan was as exciting!

    By the way, do the Amish make their own shoes?

    Like

  33. To All Readers:

    Thank you once again for your wonderful comments. I wish I could reply to all of you individually…. Know that I truly appreciate your support.

    Part of this blog post is to test the waters a little, to see what kind of interest and reception is out there for my story and more awareness about the Amish in book form. So far, I’m very happy with the results and I have Tim to eternally thank for offering me this platform.

    If there are any questions I haven’t responded to, it’s because those are questions that will be answered in the book. I apologize for leaving you hanging, but the answers are quite lengthy and complex. They’re good questions, hence why it’ll take a book to answer them. : )

    Torah

    Like

  34. To ‘me’ who says the following:

    “before we have another 3,000 posts that say “well, i’m NOT amish, and aren’t an expert, BUT i know this can’t be true…”

    “please just stop and listen to yourselves for a second, and perhaps you will realize how ridiculous your statements are before you post them.

    “and those who will devalue or try to diminish this woman’s experience from behind their keyboard, please also stop and listen to yourselves.”

    Thank you! I really appreciate what you said. I’m very aware that by sharing my story, I’m opening myself up to all sorts of criticisms. This always happens on controversial issues. However, it’s very heartening to see that someone realizes the irony of a person who’s not Amish and not an expert speaking for the entire Amish community.

    Cheers!
    Torah

    Like

  35. To ‘ex-ISKCON cult member’ who says the following:

    ‘I find it incredibly patronizing and dismissive for commenters to have such an outcry about these articles. Torah is telling her story and all you can do is pipe up in defense of a group that is, at best, condemning their children to a life of authoritarianism, ignorance, and isolation. They don’t allow their children to pursue education. How is that not a violation of their human rights?

    ‘I left a cult as well and when I try to speak about what happened to me on the inside, I get the same thing.”

    Congratulations for escaping! It takes guts and an unwavering belief in oneself to do so.

    And thank you for coming to my defense. : ) I’m very aware that by sharing my story, I’m opening myself up to all sorts of criticisms. That’s normal and natural for controversial issues. However, it’s very encouraging when someone who’s been in a similar situation speaks up.

    My story is far from uncommon. It’s common within the Amish and it’s common in many societies—to less or more degrees. Through this blog and the book, my purpose is to inspire individuals to pursue their dreams no matter how impossible it may seem. To design their own lifestyles, the lifestyle they want (in true Tim Ferriss fashion!).

    It is equally important that people become aware of issues within the Amish and that they are offered ways to take action to alleviate the plight of all those whose human rights are being violated, whether they are Amish or not.

    Torah

    Like

  36. I would like to hear Torah clarify what she means when she speaks of being beaten.

    Was it a spanking on her bottom as is commonly done? Or was it an all out, let the blows land where they will, beating?

    Also, what was used to give the beating?

    One more question. I understand that Torah’s parents are no longer Amish. Is that correct?

    Thank you for your time Torah.

    Like

  37. This post really resonated with me, especially the earlier part about not just how hard it is but how much harder it seems to leave the life you don’t want to live and start over. This brought back memories of my decision to leave a bad 2-decade marriage and go after the life I wanted.

    Like

  38. Tim;
    I’m not sure where your staying in Lake Buena Vista, but I’ve lived in Orlando for a while, but here’s a couple of quick suggestions.

    At Disney, there’s lots of tourista type stuff right there at Disney.. Disney West Side is good. Movies, restaurants, Pleasure Island (which closes in Sept. to get redone into a more “family friendly” place. Check out Bongo’s Cuban Restaurant, then walk across the “street” and buy a fresh rolled cigar.

    Take a drive into Winter Park, just northeast of Orlando. Meander up Park Ave. Lots of restaurants, window shopping, and big laurel oak trees.

    Or, drive to Clermont. Take Hwy 192 west to Hwy 27, then turn north. 30 minutes up the road is Clermont, central florida’s center of Triathalon activity. Do a Google search of Brickhouse Pub, Clermont. Nice pub, lots of good beer and the chow’s pretty good.

    Hope this helps.

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  39. Hi Torah,

    It takes great courage to leave your home at 15 and I acknowledge you for doing this and living the way you wanted. Starting over and learning a whole new world must have been scary. It doesn’t make sense to me that others would try to discount your life experiences, but so it apparently is.

    I support you and encourage you to keep living as your heart wants to!

    If you’re ever in LA, feel free to look me up. You’ve always got a friend here.
    Sadie

    Like

  40. I am very pleased that Torah has taken the time to answer directly some of the questions that have been posed here. Unlike her, however, I believe some of the early posts pre-emptively scolding anyone who DARED question her account were way out of line. All things and all people may be questioned. That’s how truth is uncovered. Shutting down discussion is popular in politics and even science these days, but it’s not really productive.

    That said, she answered the questions that came to mind, and did so thorougly and with grace. What a lady! My main question was whether her parents were notified right away that she was okay and safe. I’m not a parent, but I suppose if my daughter had disappeared in the middle of the night, I’d be terrified. She appears to have answered in the affirmative in a post above that her parents were called by her uncle.

    The story truly is inspiring, and while I have heard rumblings about Amish children being rather severely dealt with when it came to punishment, I’ve never known any Amish personally. This was, therefore, a very personal and moving account and I think her for it.

    Comparing the photo of her in Amish dress and a photo of her and bio on her Website’s “about” page, she has clearly emerged as a beautiful, talented and well-traveled woman (20 countries visited!) I can see why Tim was attracted by her story, since she is a bit of a Renaissance woman, doing a LOT of things (boxing?!) and enjoying life to the fullest, just as Tim seems to be doing.

    Best of luck with the book!

    Like

  41. @Bruce

    I also recommend a visit to Winter Park, FL. It’s a charming little town with quaint shops that seems plopped down in the middle of a state that can in places seem a bit plasticky and fake.

    When I lived in Orlando, my family and I used to go there every weekend just to walk around and take in the scenery there.

    Like

  42. It’s truly a small, small world. I mentioned these posts to one of my close friends tonight. Turns out he knows Ruth “Torah” Bontrager quite well. In fact, my friend’s wife worked with “Torah” at a bakery over the time “Torah” left home.

    Not only that, my friend’s wife is married to “Torah’s” sister.

    (Do I call her by her given name or her assumed name? Since she goes by “Torah” I will use that out of respect.)

    Before I go any further, I need to let you know I am a fairly harsh critic of the Amish and even of many of the Mennonites. I consider many of their churches to have many characteristics of a cult. The friend I reference here is of the same persuasion. My motive in posting this is not to defend the Amish, rather to share some balance to this discussion.

    1. “Torah’s” parents are no longer Amish. In fact, they are pretty far from being Amish. So when “Torah” goes home to visit, she is not visiting Amish parents.

    2. Torah’s siblings deny her claims. That is not proof in of itself. But when you consider the fact that they are no longer Amish themselves their denials carry a bit more credibility.

    3. There are lots of other credibility issues going on here. I am not interested in throwing a lot of dirt. But I would give a strong caution to the owner of this blog about “hitching his horse to this buggy”. You operate with a lot of integrity. From what I have learned from various sources, including this friend I mentioned, there may be some credibility issues with “Torah’s” story. It is your choice but it would be worth considering my warning.

    Of course, it’s a free world. I defend “Torah’s” legal right to tell her story how ever she sees fit. And there are many who will blindly rise to her defense by seeking to discredit those of us who cast doubt on her story.

    BTW, I just saw a recent picture of Torah’s parents and siblings. Her father has no beard, does not dress “Amish”, drives a bus, etc.

    Before you dismiss me, I can provide names, dates, photos, etc. to back up my claims. I can be contacted at my user name at gmail dot com.

    Thank you for your time.

    PS. “Torah”, I feel bad for your sake for doing this. I know all too well how badly the rejection hurts and God knows you don’t need more hurt. But the truth must be told, even if it “costs” you credibility.

    Like

  43. Tim,
    This is a very brave young lady. Thank you for supplying a medium so we may hear her voice.
    You need to apply to Teach for America. Your tools/methodologies would be an asset to the underprivileged.
    http://www.teachforamerica.org
    (as an alum working in sci/tech (and a huge fan of yours) it is actually pretty urgent)

    -pura vida hermano

    Like

  44. On the issue of whether Amish have SS cards and numbers. I grew up Amish much like Torah, and when you file for SS exemption status you will be given a SS # if you did not have one before and that will be used for your tax fileing purposes and employment if needed.And you can only get an exemption by being a member in the church as the Amish Bishop has to file it for you.

    Like

  45. a. is there any evidence that torah’s accusations are true? many of these stories have turned out to be exaggerated or hoaxes. The woman, frankly is trying to sell a book. Nothing wrong with that, but extraordinary accusations require proof.
    b. all communties religious, non religious, etc have problems with rape and incest, but some lower than others. Relative to the general population or other subgroups (like blacks who have a very high rape rate) what is the rape or violence rate amongst Amish? I ask this because it seems to be a bit of sensationalism here -

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  46. Great article and T, it was cool reading about your experience. I remember when you made it to my dads house in Montana all those years ago. My dad never talked much about his experience in the Amish before he ran away at 15, but reading this post just gave me a reminder about some of the things he used to say about the Amish life. I’m glad he was there to help you. Anyway, I’m back in MX, so give me a call when you can. And please pass this on to my dad, he would love this.

    Like

  47. I know a good number of Amish. There is no doubt that they believe in physical punishment (as well as other forms of discipline which have more to do with withdrawal of privileges such as “going out to play”, not being allowed to fulfill responsibilities that would show you are “growing up”, etc.), but there is also a difference between spanking and beating. I am not going to claim that Torah was not beaten. Domestic abuse (whether spousal or child) is a problem in Amish communities, as it is in almost every American community (whether WASP, Hmong, African-Aemrican, Hispanic, Amerind, etc.). It does NOT deserve to be ignored or swept under the rug, any more than it does in any other setting. At any rate, ‘discipline’ and ‘beating’ are not synonymous in the Old Order communtiies I know (including in Ontario, WI and MI).

    The issue that bothers me the most about how the Amish choose to raise their children is not allowing them to go to school beyond eighth grade. That dooms them to lead an unconsidered life in many cases. However, reasons for doing that range from their own teachers having not gone to school beyond eighth grade, to their religious beliefes that are such a part of the fabric of their lives that they can not let a government teach their children that the creation story is inaccurate and that children under 15 have no reason to know anything about sexuality (again, I am not saying I agree, I am saying that is where they are ocming from), and to the fact that most of the jobs they can take and still be “good Amishmen” do not require further education that they cannot obtain on their own reading journals and the like (farming, leatherworking, metalworking, cleaning, construction trades – which they cannot be licensed for in most cases…). I do know a few very intelligent people who refused to accept that completely and have done things become tax preparers through correspondence courses, or taken agricultural methods courses the same way. And i know a few others who chose to leave because of that.
    That said, different communities do react differently to young adults who leave. It is hard to leave if you do not have a relative who has already left. And if you leave after having chosen to be baptized (between 17 and 25, usually), that is seen as a promise to God that you have broken, and not just rejecting your parents’ religion. I know Amish who welcome English neighbors occasionally, as someone mentioned above, who play Rook with their cousins whose parents left the church, and who shut people who have left out completely and don;t even tell them if a first degree relative has died.
    Also, the propane refrigerator and possibly a water pump, is not unusual, even among the Old Order; and many people who have a refrigerator also have a hot water heater, powered in the same way. You do not need to have electricity to have those appliances.

    Many Amish do not get social security numbers for their children (or did not before they started, fairly recently, requiring them to claim your children on your income taxes); some do get them at birth. Almost all will have a birth certificate, though the parents may not necessarily have a copy of it in the house, but they would be accessible in the county where they born. All the Amish I know do file income tax returns, because they are required in almost every case to get any benefits at all, or keep an employment record. If you have your own small business, it is even more important. And if you are Amish and employ other Amish (or English), you need to keep the records for their salaries too.

    I do know about an equal number of communitites (or know of, in some detail) who do immunize their children, and who do not. It is another form of government intrusion, in some people’s opinions, but since a medical doctor for your family is, by definition, not Amish, and they typically push them, many people just do it to keep the government off their backs.

    So there you go. Those are a few things that explain why her story is completely plausible, but also not necessary common. I have friends who were abused physically and emotionally by their parents, who were either catholic or protestant (or Jewish). I have other close friends (and some of the same ones) who suffered unimaginable incest trauma or generally hellish lives as children. I am NOT attempting to minimize Torah’s or their pain – far from it! Such abuse is inexcusable. But she is not alone. And until it is far less common if not unheard of, none of us can rest on our laurels or point fingers at “others”. I am thrilled that she escaped such a miserable excuse for a future. Many do not, and the patterns of abuse are simply repeated ad nasueum. And more power to her mom too, for trying to change her own patterns with the younger children. That is what it takes to break the cycles, especially when you are in a community that encourages more children rather than fewer, and is supposed to treat each one as the gift from God (“on loan in stewardship”) that they are.

    Like

  48. I know a good number of Amish. There is no doubt that they believe in physical punishment (as well as other forms of discipline which have more to do with withdrawal of privileges such as “going out to play”, not being allowed to fulfill responsibilities that would show you are “growing up”, etc.), but there is also a difference between spanking and beating. I am not going to claim that Torah was not beaten. Domestic abuse (whether spousal or child) is a problem in Amish communities, as it is in almost every American community (whether WASP, Hmong, African-American, Hispanic, Amerind, etc.). It does NOT deserve to be ignored or swept under the rug, any more than it does in any other setting. At any rate, ‘discipline’ and ‘beating’ are not synonymous in the Old Order communtiies I know (including in Ontario, WI and MI).

    The issue that bothers me the most about how the Amish choose to raise their children is not allowing them to go to school beyond eighth grade. That dooms them to lead an unconsidered life in many cases. However, reasons for doing that range from their own teachers having not gone to school beyond eighth grade, to their religious beliefes that are such a part of the fabric of their lives that they can not let a government teach their children that the creation story is inaccurate and that children under 15 have no reason to know anything about sexuality (again, I am not saying I agree, I am saying that is where they are ocming from), and to the fact that most of the jobs they can take and still be “good Amishmen” do not require further education that they cannot obtain on their own reading journals and the like (farming, leatherworking, metalworking, cleaning, construction trades – which they cannot be licensed for in most cases…). I do know a few very intelligent people who refused to accept that completely and have done things become tax preparers through correspondence courses, or taken agricultural methods courses the same way. And i know a few others who chose to leave because of that.
    That said, different communities do react differently to young adults who leave. It is hard to leave if you do not have a relative who has already left. And if you leave after having chosen to be baptized (between 17 and 25, usually), that is seen as a promise to God that you have broken, and not just rejecting your parents’ religion. I know Amish who welcome English neighbors occasionally, as someone mentioned above, who play Rook with their cousins whose parents left the church, and who shut people who have left out completely and don;t even tell them if a first degree relative has died.
    Also, the propane refrigerator and possibly a water pump, is not unusual, even among the Old Order; and many people who have a refrigerator also have a hot water heater, powered in the same way. You do not need to have electricity to have those appliances.

    Many Amish do not get social security numbers for their children (or did not before they started, fairly recently, requiring them to claim your children on your income taxes); some do get them at birth. Almost all will have a birth certificate, though the parents may not necessarily have a copy of it in the house, but they would be accessible in the county where they born. All the Amish I know do file income tax returns, because they are required in almost every case to get any benefits at all, or keep an employment record. If you have your own small business, it is even more important. And if you are Amish and employ other Amish (or English), you need to keep the records for their salaries too.

    I do know about an equal number of communitites (or know of, in some detail) who do immunize their children, and who do not. It is another form of government intrusion, in some people’s opinions, but since a medical doctor for your family is, by definition, not Amish, and they typically push them, many people just do it to keep the government off their backs.

    So there you go. Those are a few things that explain why her story is completely plausible, but also not necessary common. I have friends who were abused physically and emotionally by their parents, who were either catholic or protestant (or Jewish). I have other close friends (and some of the same ones) who suffered unimaginable incest trauma or generally hellish lives as children. I am NOT attempting to minimize Torah’s or their pain – far from it! Such abuse is inexcusable. But she is not alone. And until it is far less common if not unheard of, none of us can rest on our laurels or point fingers at “others”. I am thrilled that she escaped such a miserable excuse for a future. Many do not, and the patterns of abuse are simply repeated ad nasueum. And more power to her mom too, for trying to change her own patterns with the younger children. That is what it takes to break the cycles, especially when you are in a community that encourages more children rather than fewer, and is supposed to treat each one as the gift from God (“on loan in stewardship”) that they are.

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  49. @joshua

    You state the only reason to get a SS card is to be eligible to receive SS benefits. I must assume you do not have children. I was shocked when I moved from Canada to the United States and learned that in order to claim my children as dependents on my income tax return, they had to have social security numbers (no matter their age). Felt like I had moved to Hitler’s Germany. Even good old socialist Canada did not require that.

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  50. @Torah
    Thanks a lot for sharing your story – I’m a student from Germany, I attended a cultural studies seminar on religion in the USA this semester, and of course Amish culture was one of the topics. Maybe it encourages you to hear that we were informed not only of the (perceived) positive features of the Amish but we also heard of the problems you described – all kinds of abuse cases which aren’t investigated and persecuted because of the Amish being secluded from the outside world (kind of).
    Anyway, it was very interesting reading the interview and your follow-up comments. The latter were even more interesting than the interview itself, as a matter of fact.
    I’m looking forward to reading your book when it comes out, again, thank you very much for telling your story and all the explanations!

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  51. Speaking as a gay homosexual Asian male who has been to Lancaster Pennsylvania several times and enjoyed the fresh sausages and kraut you can eat there, this story has a bit of irony to it… if you know what I mean.

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  52. Erm…to the poster “littleblackriver”…

    Did you say “my friend’s wife is married to “Torah’s” sister” ?
    How exactly is that possible? Your friends wife is married to him AND has a lesbian marriage to Torah’s sister all at the same time? Or is that just a typo?

    Please explain.

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  53. Gsp,

    OOPS! Red faced here.

    my friend’s wife’s brother is married to “Torah’s” sister

    There, fixed.

    BTW, just ate lunch today with another person who personally knew Ruth aka Torah.

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  54. Any conclusive confirmation on the Ruth/Torah accusation?

    littleblackriver said “Torah’s siblings deny her claims.” What claims exactly? That she left home under the circumstances she described?

    Liked by 1 person

  55. John,

    No one has contacted me. I don’t get the impression anyone is really that anxious to know anything that might detract from the story as told. Like I said, I can provide many more details upon request.

    One claim specifically is that she was beaten.

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  56. I thank Torah for her explanations. The fact that there are so many questions and doubts surrounding Torah’s story is a good sign. Her book needs to withstand scrutiny, which it will undoubtedly get, especially after recent scandals involving fraudulent memoirs. The Amish are part of the American myth, and to screw around with a cherished myth—especially when it is still living and breathing, is not something the American public will take lightly.

    What is not so encouraging is an uncritical, sentimental hook-line-and-sinker acceptance exhibited by so many, especially when the account can be seen as libelous at worst, or unfair at the least.

    And on a somewhat related note, to set the record straight: I’m a member of ISKCON, and the claim by the “Ex-ISKCON Cult member” that they “escaped” from ISKCON is patently ridiculous. I’ve left and come back, and I have friends who have done so also, or else not come back at all. After the founder passed away in 1977, management went nuts and a lot of thing were done that were illegal, immoral, and totally against the principles of the religion, which has been extant in some form or another since before the time of Christ.

    There is something of a cottage industry in former members who will always identify themselves as victims, even though the opportunity to move on and experience “the best revenge”—living well—is repeatedly disregarded.

    The fact that people like me have benefited enormously from membership in ISKCON (and let’s be clear, even Christianity was once seen as a cult; the label does not bother me in the slightest) means nothing to the ex-members: their own resentments and grudges are paramount, and they refuse to take responsibility for what their lives were or are. So be it: “Let the dogs bark; the caravan moves on. ” Sorry to hijack space here; I will comment no more on the subject, nor on Torah’s story. After all, I have a life. Best wishes to her, the ex-cult member, and all of you.

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  57. In a warped way, I thoroughly enjoyed your story. Thank you for sharing. That being said, you should write a book. There are people in the world who find themselves in similar situations, not just the Amish. Perhaps your
    story would help them to find the courage to get out of a situation that they are miserable in. Perhaps they too, will see that we are all meant to be happy in this life, it is our RIGHT, the right of every single person living on this marvelous planet. If where they are at, and what they are doing, is not making them happy, to the point where they are thinking of ending their own precious life, then they need to take stock and find the courage to take the action to go out and get their happiness. Your story has a happy ending because you found the strength within your heart to take the risk your heart was screaming at you to take… You didn’t like where you were at, you knew it, and the moment you took the chance to face your fear, get out of there and listen to what you wanted, you were free. Too many of us are afraid to take that risk and stay cemented in our situations. Do it!! Write a book – not a blog (sorry Tim)… The world is waiting for your inspiration. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  58. To ‘littleblackriver’ who says the following:

    “I would like to hear Torah clarify what she means when she speaks of being beaten.

    “Was it a spanking on her bottom as is commonly done? Or was it an all out, let the blows land where they will, beating?”

    Is your question about whether I got spanked or beaten or is the real motive behind your question to state your opinion or false belief that the Amish rarely beat their children, if at all?

    If you want challenge me, feel free to do so, but I will notice when you include an implicit (or explicit) opinion in your question, consciously or unconsciously trying to pass said opinion or ‘fact’ off as truth. E.g., ‘Was it a spanking on her bottom as is commonly done?’

    Just fyi, when I say ‘beat’, I mean ‘beat’, not ‘spank’.

    Torah

    Liked by 1 person

  59. To ‘littleblackriver’ who questions my credibility:

    >“Not only that, my friend’s wife is married to “Torah’s” sister.”

    Thanks for the news. I had no idea that my sister is in a polygamous marriage and that one of her partners is female.

    >”(Do I call her by her given name or her assumed name? Since she goes >by “Torah” I will use that out of respect.)”

    If you’d like to challenge me, you are welcome to do so, but I will notice when you include an implicit (or explicit) opinion in your question, consciously or unconsciously trying to pass said opinion or ‘fact’ off as truth.

    E.g., When you ask, “Do I call her by her given name or her assumed name?”, you are making the claim that Torah is my assumed name. That is false. Torah is my legal name. (Ruth was the name I was given at birth by my parents, but that is not my legal name.)

    >”My motive in posting this is not to defend the Amish, rather to share >some balance to this discussion.”

    If you’d like “to share some balance to this discussion”, in my humble opinion, it would be wise to make very sure that you clearly check your facts–that you distinguish between opinion and fact—before making claims about anything. That would benefit everyone who reads these blogs and comments, including myself.

    >1. “Torah’s” parents are no longer Amish. In fact, they are pretty far >from being Amish. So when “Torah” goes home to visit, she is not >visiting Amish parents.

    Nowhere in my comments or in the post did I say that my parents are practicing Amish or that I visit my practicing Amish parents.

    A very good thing to keep in mind is that my story is a 3-part post. So far, only two posts are up. The last post may address the status of my parents.

    That said, I will go ahead and ‘reveal’ that my parents officially resigned from the Amish church. However, they are still very much Amish ideologically and socially/culturally. They are NOT “pretty far from being Amish” when you compare them to mainstream America. If you properly observe my family, it is very obvious that they are not mainstream American and that they are very much Amish when it comes to their lifestyle and ideology. And even though my parents officially resigned from the Amish church, I am still the black sheep in their eyes and treated as such.

    NOTE: Most non-practicing Amish say that they are not Amish or they call themselves ex-Amish. Religiously, they aren’t Amish. Culturally, or as part of a minority group, they are Amish. I use the terms ‘practicing’ and ‘non-practicing’ (or sometimes ex-Amish) to make the distinction between an Amish person who practices the Amish religion and an Amish person who does not practice the Amish religion. ‘Practicing’ and ‘non-practicing’ are terms I’ve come up with to draw attention to the fact that just because an Amish person escapes or resigns from the church does not make him/her no longer Amish when it comes to his/her heritage and secondly, that the term ‘Amish’ is not just referring to a religion but to a language and a culture/society/minority group as well.

    >2. Torah’s siblings deny her claims. That is not proof in of itself. But >when you consider the fact that they are no longer Amish themselves >their denials carry a bit more credibility.

    Unless you let the readers know which claims exactly my siblings deny and following that, you can prove that my siblings are telling the truth, it doesn’t follow that my story is not credible.

    My siblings are non-practicing Amish. Please see my comments above about the difference between ‘practicing’ and ‘non-practicing’ Amish.

    Also, it’s not clear to me how the fact that my siblings aren’t practicing Amish automatically makes their alleged denials credible.

    >3. There are lots of other credibility issues going on here. I am not >interested in throwing a lot of dirt. But I would give a strong caution to >the owner of this blog about “hitching his horse to this buggy”. You >operate with a lot of integrity. From what I have learned from various >sources, including this friend I mentioned, there may be some >credibility issues with “Torah’s” story. It is your choice but it would be >worth considering my warning.

    Earlier you stated that your motive in posting this is “to share some balance to this discussion”. Stating that my story has “lots of…credibility issues” but then not clearly defining whatever, in your opinion, those credibility issues are seems to me to be at odds with your motive “to share some balance to this discussion”. For the benefit of myself and all the readers, please consider informing us exactly what parts of my story aren’t credible AND who your sources are. But only do so if you can provide accurate evidence without any doubts that what you are saying is fact, the truth, and not just opinion or speculation. Circulating rumors or gossip is not helpful or beneficial to anyone. Thank you! : )

    If you’d like to fact-check with me before making claims that are intended to question my credibility, you can contact me via my website. I’d be happy to help clarify any issues you have with my story.

    Lastly, to you and all readers, please remember that Tim says at the very beginning of this post, “this two-part piece is not intended to generalize all Amish. It is a chronicle of one person’s experiences with the common constraints and abuses of the Old Order Amish, leading to escape.”

    I encourage you and all readers to read my account carefully and not make assumptions or jump to illogical conclusions. We all make assumptions or jump to illogical conclusions; I know I do. But when it comes to the topic of the Amish, being very objective and paying very close attention to what it is that I actually said/say would be very helpful. Everyone has a certain image or belief about the Amish so when I (or another Amish person) says something that SEEMS to contradict said image or belief, it’s easy to replace in our minds what they actually said with what we want or expect them to have said.

    Torah

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  60. Timothy,

    I’m, I suppose, an old lady now! (I, certainly have an old woman sense of humor!)

    However, once upon a time, before I gave in and gave up for the sake of marriage and motherhood, I knew my own rules. I did!

    And, I got married because the weather was nice enough. It must have been raining cats and dogs when he committed suicide the night I told him I was pregnant and wouldn’t come home if we didn’t get help. The next 30 years are a blur of “the rules other folks seem to do just fine by.” I’ve grabbed my ankles so hard that I’m working in a phone room encouraging folks to write their own rules!

    “Uncle Albert” is quoted as saying that it takes a genius to recognize the obvious. I guess you must get some credit for my genius. With your pep-squad of a book, I’m done! I’m going to get “Wildcraft Worldwide, Earth up and get to it. I may drive to South America in November, but I’ll definitely be somewhere incredible for New Year’s. I want 3 years of joy. I’m going to make a difference to villages with great goodies and get everywhere.

    Thanks. Your mother should be even more proud than she is. I’m only into the book enough to know it’s right-on, but I know it.

    Best,
    Margret

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  61. Totally inspiring. Thanks for sharing. Have you ever gone back there?

    Do you have any plans for setting up programs or systems to help others trapped in the situation you so bravely escaped from? (Obviously, sharing your story like this-creating awareness-is a big first step)

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  62. The Amish, like many Christian people, and other faith-based people have an uncanny ability to pick and choose what is holy and what is defiled. Yes, there are some details in this story which don’t quite fit in to our preconceptions of Amish communities, but most of our ideas are based on hearsay, rumour and wild whispers.

    Thankyou for telling your story… I hope we can all have the humility to listen and learn from you… and I pray your (delayed) decision to make a difference sees fruit sooner rather than later.

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  63. I grew up as a Christadelphian. My immediate and extended family were all members of this fundamentalist sect. Although there were no beatings that I’m aware of, being a part of this tightly knit community from birth to age twenty has left me with some very dysfunctional organizing principles that have greatly hampered me all my life.

    Even though I “left” the Christadelphians at twenty years of age, and subsequently remained an atheist until I was into my forties, I am only now beginning to realize how profoundly I was affected by being a part of this group through the most formative years of my life. At age 58, I am finally de-programming with the help of a psychotherapist and a lot of painful introspection.

    This startling new awareness of my deeply etched unconscious beliefs and the powerful emotions welded to those beliefs has been at once a great relief and at the same time painful and depressing. I am angry that I spent so much of my life unaware of the beliefs that guided my behaviour and swayed my decisions. I am in the midst of “re-inventing” myself, being “re-born”, if you will. This is a highly dis-regulating process. However, I am optimistic about the eventual outcome.

    I share all of this because Torah has brought to light a very sensitive and incredibly important issue for any of us who have been a part of a cult or cult-like religious organization. Not all of these communities make a practise of physical abuse, but they certainly can wound deeply at the emotional and spiritual level.

    Thank you, Torah. And Tim, for providing the forum.

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  64. One of my Amish friends emailed me this after reading these two posts:

    Wow. It’s hard to know what to make of a story like this. Did she really have unloving parents? Or did they simply not do what she wanted?

    Those who do not know God–Amish or not–will naturally be confused about the Amish culture. Some idolize it and others dismiss it as evil. Both miss the point. We are made alive by the Spirit, not by our choice of culture.

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  65. I read the story with some interest as I have also left the Amish (though ‘escaped’ wouldn’t characterize my experience). I had some questions about the story — it seems quite dramatic — but it is conceivable that it could have occurred in some Amish communities. If the story is true, Torah, then I extend my deepest sympathies. No person should ever endure those kinds of situations.

    I do take objection to the sweeping statements and characterizations made. You have made repeated disclaimers, but you still try to portray your situation as the norm: “If my statements differ from what you’ve read or seen or heard, it’s very likely due to your having been the recipient of what the Amish wanted you to believe.” These statements do have experienced and what I have observed in numerous Amish communities throughout various states. It isn’t because the Amish have hoodwinked me — it’s because this is NOT the reality in the Amish settings where I have been.

    There is a wide range of Amish communities. From strict to “liberal”, from harsh and controlling to warm and open. I have grown up in a positive setting, but I have also seen bad situations. The stricter settings tend to be controlling, but it is not always that way. I have also seen quite conservative settings that were marked by warm and loving relationships. From my observations, the amount of love and joy in the communities are proportional to the degree that the community defined themselves and conformed themselves to the Bible. The most controlling groups do not know the Bible well and instead define their lives primarily by being “Amish”.

    There are Amish communities that are very overbearing in their control. In those settings, I could see a potential for abuse to occur. However, I don’t think this is the norm. I know that the Amish have worked very hard to educate their people to the dangers of abuse (e.g. through Pathway magazines for those of you with Amish background) and have sought to protect their children from these possibilities.

    There is a huge segment of the Amish (the majority from my experience) that you have missed. I, too, could write a book about my experiences, however, it would not be a dramatic one — it would be a simple story of a people who have sought to follow the Bible and have made lifestyles choices that many people would not choose to make. People who ended their formal education at 8th grade, but never quit learning. The lives of many were were marked with love, compassion, and joy.

    From my experience, Amish is not a language. We always referred to it as “daetch” (Pennsylvania Dutch). The Amish do have a distinct, cohesive culture. In many settings however, it is also not a religion — it is a branch of Christianity. This is not universally true, there are many like Torah’s group who identify themselves exclusively as Amish, not as Christian.

    My grandfather was an Amish preacher and lived to be 88 years old. I remember his sermons throughout my growing up years. He rarely talked about being Amish in his sermons — he talked about the Bible and the Saviour he loved. His favorite verse was John 3:16 that spoke about a God who loved so much that he gave His Son to bring salvation to the world. You can argue with his message, but had you met him (as many non-Amish did) you would not have argued with his heart.

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  66. The reason for the beatings,Ruth,is what’s called ‘Breaking the child’s will’ Maney cultures do that. I Too,took that long walk, yrs ago.What you say rings true,but thanks for keeping it a bit on the upbeat side.Much more so than that woman from iowa,she got bitter..machs gutt.

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  67. “…I hadn’t got beaten by my mom that day…” awww.. isn’t that sad/nice?…. Sorry, the story is a little hard-pressed to buy. I grew up mennonite/amish and let’s look at just a couple things… will someone please help me out here… but how does one have a refrigerator in an old amish farmhouse, or how does one flush a toilet with no running water? The Amish I knew had no indoor plumbing not to mention electricity in the house….. and the #1 most blaring issue… what exactly is the language spoken by these people…. Amish??? give me a break *eye roll* the i *** that thinks this language is called “amish” really, really needs to get out more. but hey, no point letting facts and reason cloud a good heart-rending story about some poor innocent little girl with a harrowing tale of growing up under the awful oppressive vile people (otherwise know as the peace-loving and respectable Amish)?

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  68. @Torah I was fascinated by your escape story. At least you could see that you needed to escape from your stifling and constricting environment, which happened to be Old Order Amish and put a plan into place to do so. Most of us are not even aware of the restrictions that we and our environment put upon ourselves. I admire your courage to break the mould.

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  69. I miss the old blogs on this site pre-FISA and other controversies,…..any chance Tim that we can get back a little to your previous themes?

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  70. What I found engrossing about this is the intimation that the closed Amish community is systematically unfit to distinguish or deal with cases of ongoing physical or sexual abuse. In my community, when someone encounters evidence of abuse they usually feel a responsibility to report it to an abuse prevention agency of some sort. But that feeling of responsibility to intervene is, I believe, a relatively new development in our culture that arose about over the past few decades. Torah, do you think the Amish community is behind the outside world in this respect, and that the outside world needs to intervene?
    Also, do you feel that the Amish freedom to cut off their children’s education at Grade 8 is a violation of the child’s human rights?

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  71. *NSCS Challenge Completed!* Tim, I didn’t see a way to email you directly so I hope you respond to this…I was at the NSCS convention in Florida, perhaps you remember me… I asked you about Lance Armstrong and for advice after your speech… Anyways I wanted to let you know that I was able to talk to an “untouchable” and ask two questions for your challenge because TONY DUNGY, the Colts football coach, was doing a book signing at the Mall of America! I can send you pictures of the book and the event photos to prove it. Just let me know what I need to do. Lance Haman

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  72. Torah,

    I apologize for using the wrong term about your name change. I knew you had allegedly made the change legally. I consider even a legal name change to be assuming a new name, but maybe I am wrong in my use of that term.

    I think it’s kinda dirty rotten of you to pick me apart about a typo that was acknowledged and corrected. That makes me wonder if you aren’t more interested in discrediting me than bringing out the truth.

    If you were in fact beaten, why does everyone involved in your life as an Amish girl scoff at your claims? Are you willing to give an exact description of how those beatings allegedly happened? (As opposed to throwing out the generic “I was beaten”.)

    Your parents are just as main stream American as you are. It is rather arrogant of you to claim otherwise. Are they conservative Christians? Of course. Are they on the fringes of main stream America? Perhaps. But no more than you are.

    Are you prepared to also discuss the manner in which you have treated your family? Or is that off limits?

    Also, doubts have been raised about your pilot’s license. Since you are so committed to exposing the truth, I hope you will provide documentation that you did in fact obtain that license.

    You said “If you want challenge me, feel free to do so, but I will notice when you include an implicit (or explicit) opinion in your question, consciously or unconsciously trying to pass said opinion or ‘fact’ off as truth. E.g., ‘Was it a spanking on her bottom as is commonly done?’”

    Excuse me? I asked you a question. Several of them. None of those were offering an opinion in any shape or form. I wonder why you felt the need to try to discredit me for that comment when all I did was ask a question or two.

    I won’t be contacting you. I made the offer that I could be contacted first and you passed on it. Therefore your offer to me is nothing more than grandstanding for this community. However, my offer to you still stands. I made it clear how you can contact me. If you prove me wrong on anything via email I will post a retraction.

    About your parents having left the Amish. I know you did not claim they were still Amish. And I did not claim you did. But what you are leading people to believe and what is truth is not always the same thing.

    Look, I don’t have a dog in this hunt. I watch Tim’s blog through LifeRemix. I saw the posts about you and because of my background thought it would be interesting. When I read your story some significant red flags went up. I started doing a little digging. The more I dig, the more skeptical I get about all of your claims. Some of them are laughable, some are simply sad, and some may even be true.

    In fact, I actually believe that much abuse is covered up among the Amish and Mennonites. And the way they treat those who do not conform to their expectations is often vicious and cruel. I think many of them are quite cultish. The sweetness and light they display to the outside world is quite deceiving in many cases. With all due respect to my Amish and Mennonite friends, I do not mind if their reputation is brought down a few notches closer to reality.

    But your story is not adding up. There are too many holes, too many conflicting explanations coming out, etc. It is quite clear to me that you have sensationalized your story. You are legally free to do so. Likewise, the blogger community is free to call you out on it.

    Why you would sensationalize your story is an interesting question. It would be easy to ascribe it to your search for a book deal and I cannot dismiss that possibility. However, I have seen the same tendency among many of us who have left our strict Anabaptist upbringings. I have a theory, but it is only a theory and my opinion. As you know, the “we are the only right way” is deeply ingrained in us. When we leave there are many demons of the mind to fight off. We know that what was ingrained in us isn’t true, but it is something so deep you can’t just flip a switch and think differently. So subconsciously we demonize our background, former culture, etc. until we can justify ourselves for leaving. In the process, facts become stretched, stories get wilder, accusations get more serious, and so on. It is quite common and since it is an emotional survival technique I hesitate to criticize it. (Often a good dose of bitterness helps confuse us even more.)

    At the same time, when it is used for self promotion and aggrandizement, I am not content to simply observe. I will speak out. And that is exactly why I am speaking out about your story.

    Well, that and the fact that I see people like you as an enemy of actually exposing the evils that are found in the plain communities. People like you give ammo to those who would discredit all such claims. So I guess I am basically saying, in my opinion, you are the wrong poster child for this cause unless you can be more humble and more honest.

    The story you wish to tell in general needs to be told. But in order for it to be credible and useful it must be told by someone who is completely credible. The way things look now, Torah is not that person. But if I can be proven wrong then I will back down.

    BTW, for everyone else, BoingBoing and MetaFilter have some interesting discussions going on about this story.

    littleblackriver

    PS. James Frey anyone?

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  73. Tim, I am confused what is going on here. Some comments require moderation, others don’t. Can you please delete everything except the long comment left at 11:20? Thanks.

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  74. Hi There!

    @All:

    Thanks for the great discussion. That said, please be civil and be nice. Make your points, disagree, challenge, and debate, but don’t get mean and don’t make things personal. This goes for Torah as well, so I’ll send her this as a reminder.

    I don’t want to have be the sanitizer, but this is a forum for discussion, not attacking. I’ll delete your stuff, plain and simple. Repeat acts will get you banned forever. Sorry, but them’s the rules. This blog is an unpaid experiment for me, and I owe it to my readers to keep this community populated with positive and constructive vibes (and those who challenge others tactfully).

    ###

    To Margret, thank you so much for your heart-felt comment and kind words. It made my day, and I wish you and yours nothing but the best.

    @Rhea: not to worry. More how-to coming next. That will always be the core content here. I just felt this story was worth sharing. Based on the discussion, I’m glad I did.

    @Littleblackriver:

    I have assistants handle most of the moderation, but there are a few rules: curse words get messages flagged, calling others names gets commenters on a moderated list, etc., but the general rule is just “be cool” (see “comment rules” just above the comment fields). It’s too hard to cover all the bases otherwise. I asked an assistant to remove your duplicate comments, so you should be all set.

    Pura vida :)

    Tim

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  75. Tim, with all due respect to you as the owner of this blog, I don’t think you have any idea of what you’ve gotten yourself into. Mennonites/Amish are maestros of the passive-aggressive attack. It’s one of the ways they enforce conformity.

    Notice:

    “I think it’s kinda dirty rotten of you to pick me apart about a typo that was acknowledged and corrected.”

    “PS. James Frey anyone?”

    Which amounts to “How dare you correct my grammar while I’m trying to call you a fraud?!” Playing the victim even as he casts aspersion. And it’s not just one person. It’s the community. Slandering those who leave – often in terms that make no sense to the outsider – helps prevent more kids from considering it. And on a more mundane level, it’s also a form of entertainment. When you don’t have TV, don’t go see movies, would never go to a rock ‘n roll show, and only allow yourself to listen to the Christian radio station, gossip is a major diversion.

    If you’re not prepared to moderate between people who are expert at saying “Why so angry?” with a smile on their face as they slip the knife in between your ribs and people like myself, who tend to get “uncool” in response… Well, I appreciate you posting these entries, but you might want to just lock comments and forget about it. These sorts of things just naturally get ugly.

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  76. What’s the point?

    I’m surprised that everyone reacted to the story, and not what I believe to be the POINT that Tim was trying to make.

    Change is Hard.

    If we want to try to follow Tim’s lifestyle changes present in the book and elsewhere, we need to change our ways. I thought the point was that if we think OUR lives are difficult to change, then look at what Torah did as inspiration.

    Remember all those little exercises Tim had in the book? You would if you tried them.

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  77. To ‘Michael Barkowski’:

    “Torah, do you think the Amish community is behind the outside world in this respect, and that the outside world needs to intervene?”

    Physical and sexual abuses are crimes in our country. It’s the duty of our law enforcement to stop crime, try to prevent crime, bring criminals to justice and defend the innocent. It doesn’t matter whether the perpetrators and victims are Amish or not. If someone commits a crime, he/she should be held responsible for it. And law enforcement should not make exceptions for any criminal or ignore the state of the innocent, whether he/she is Amish or not.

    “Also, do you feel that the Amish freedom to cut off their children’s education at Grade 8 is a violation of the child’s human rights?”

    In my opinion, it should be every child and adult’s human right to learn, to be provided a basic, objective and well-rounded education, and to be given the opportunity to acquire knowledge to the extent that he/she wishes. I am of the opinion that it is a violation of a child’s human rights to prevent him/her from acquiring knowledge.

    Torah

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  78. To ‘Sadie:

    Thank you for your kind comments and for the invitation! If you’d like, you can leave your contact info via my website and I’ll be sure to get in touch the next time I’m in LA.

    To ‘Stephen A.’:

    Saying that I answered questions thoroughly and with grace is the greatest compliment anyone could give me with regard to this blog post. Thank you!

    My uncle called my parents right after I got to Montana to let them know that I was okay (I also talked to my parents at that time).

    To ‘Robert:

    Thank you for the info about that course that covered the topic of the Amish. Where did you go? What was the name of the course? I’d love to get in touch with the professor; I’m impressed they brought up the problems I talk about.

    Please send me an email via my website. Thanks!

    To ‘Paul (Cleveland, OH)’:

    >Do you have any plans for setting up programs or systems to help >others trapped in the situation you so bravely escaped from?

    Yes, Project Amish is about this. You can read more about it at http://www.tkbventures.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=19&Itemid=31

    To ‘buddha35’:

    I hope you are very proud of yourself for de-programming. Congratulations! It takes courage and a lot of long, hard work to heal the wounds from one’s childhood experiences.

    >I am angry that I spent so much of my life unaware of the beliefs that >guided my behaviour and swayed my decisions.

    I know my advice is unsolicited but I will offer it anyway. : ) Don’t be angry with yourself; don’t let yourself be consumed by the negatives of the past. Look forward, not back. Be proud that you’ve become aware of the issues that you need to resolve and are resolving them. Many people go through life never getting as far as you have.

    All my best to you,
    Torah

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  79. To ‘littleblackriver’:

    “I think it’s kinda dirty rotten of you to pick me apart about a typo that was acknowledged and corrected. That makes me wonder if you aren’t more interested in discrediting me than bringing out the truth.”

    I didn’t see your follow up comments before responding to your initial comments.

    “If you were in fact beaten, why does everyone involved in your life as an Amish girl scoff at your claims?

    Not everyone who knew me before I escaped the Amish denies that I was beaten. My own parents don’t deny it and nor do my siblings.

    “Are you willing to give an exact description of how those beatings allegedly happened? (As opposed to throwing out the generic “I was beaten”.)”

    This is not a discussion that I’m interested in continuing on Tim’s blog, because I think it’s missing Tim’s point in posting my story. (If it isn’t, I’m sure Tim will let me know and I’ll happily continue the discussion here.) I think Tim wanted to post my story because he thought it might inspire readers to pursue their dreams no matter what obstacles they face, for readers to know that one is truly the master and architect of one’s lifestyle. For me, this posting is not about the details of how I suffered but rather that I removed myself from the conditions under which I was unhappy, despite how massively the unknown loomed in front of me.

    If you’d like me to continue responding in public, please leave your comments on the blog on my website. In that case, it might also be a good idea to let readers know that you’ve continued the discussion on my site, so they know where to go to follow it if they’re interested.

    Torah

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  80. Hi everyone,

    I’d like to take this opportunity to clear up a few things in case anyone is concerned about it.

    - I’m a licensed pilot. If you want to fact-check, you can contact the school where I did my training: Hesston College.

    - I was emancipated in Montana at the age of 16. If you want to fact-check, you can contact the county clerk’s office. However, if for some reason you’re not successful and it’s crucial that you see evidence, contact me via my website and I’ll help you get the evidence.

    - Old Order Amish people use buttons. But only the men, not the women. So the picture of the boy on Post II isn’t misrepresentative.

    -To anyone who thinks it’s impossible for the steel part of a gun to feel cold after target practice, take into account that it takes x minutes to go from the field where I was practice shooting to the house. I didn’t hold the gun up to my head the instant I got done firing. I don’t know exactly how many minutes it takes for the steel to cool off from that particular kind of gun but by the time I got close to the house, it had certainly cooled off.

    -To anyone who thinks I didn’t have a social security number before I escaped the Amish:

    The Amish are indeed exempt from paying social security taxes but that doesn’t automatically mean that none of the Amish have social security cards, nor is it logical to conclude that there is therefore no reason to have one.

    I don’t know how widely spread the practice of getting a social security card is (this is something I will research) but in my particular family, we all got a social security number at birth. I will have to ask my dad what exactly his reason was for getting that for us but I suspect it might have had something to do with a tax write-off (but I could be wrong).

    -To anyone who thinks that Amish is not a language, please see my comments in either Part 1 or Part 2 in which I argue the reasons for calling it a language. You can also read my argument by going here: http://www.tkbventures.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=20&Itemid=30

    Please note that “there are two completely different kinds of criteria related to the distinction between dialect and language, linguistic criteria and social or political criteria.”

    I end my argument with “my stance is still that Amish is a language (for social/political criteria if not for linguistic criteria). If anyone would like to contest this [with a solid argument], I’m very open to being persuaded otherwise. I’m interested in seeing what arguments can be put forth to solidly claim that Amish is not a language.”

    -To anyone who thinks this story is slanted or an isolated incident or that I’m betraying my Amish heritage or that I’m portraying the Amish as only negative, here’s an excerpt of comments I made earlier addressing this:

    ‘My purpose is to create a balanced awareness of the Amish. The general public already knows the good sides of the Amish. I’m here to inform you of the negative sides. That I’m addressing the negative sides should NOT be construed as my presenting a one-sided view or branding an entire culture as only negative. You already know the good stuff. Now it’s time to know the not-so-good so you can help do something positive about it.’

    For further elaboration, please see http://www.tkbventures.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=24&Itemid=30

    -It is very normal for Amish kids to get abused. Physical, verbal and emotional/psychological abuse are all very common Amish-wide. Sexual abuse tends to be more common in the stricter communities but it can happen in any community. I don’t know how common it is compared to other societies but that’s not the point. The point is that rape, incest and child molestation happen far too often and regularly and so far, nothing has been done about it to stop it permanently.

    -As previously pointed out in the posts and in my comments, when I refer to the Amish, I’m referring to the Old Order Amish. The New Order Amish and the Swartzentruber Amish are not Old Order Amish. All of my statements about the Amish are statements about the Old Order Amish.

    -It’s possible that some Amish make their own shoes. However, I don’t personally know of any Amish who do.

    -The Old Order Amish don’t have electricity in their houses. Some Amish communities allow gas-powered fridges and stoves in their homes. Some Amish communities allow running water and indoor plumbing.

    Torah

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  81. Hi All,

    Thanks for the great comments and discussion! I’m going to close comments now, but if anyone would like to continue the debates that started here, there will be more opportunities. If you prefer, Torah can also be contacted directly via her site.

    Danke!

    Tim

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