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All about the Amish

August 2, 2018
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

Who are the Amish? What exactly are their beliefs and laws? Do any Amish leave their society and join the rest of the world? What are their daily lives like? All of those questions and more were answered as the Traer Public Library hosted Don and Dianne Kramer for their "Our Neighbors, the Amish" program as they explored the separate world of the Amish.

Don and Dianne's journey to understand and then teach about the Amish came several years ago as they tutored in Iowa's English as a Second Language (ESL) program at Divine Word College in Epworth, teaching Catholics from around the world studying to be missionaries. The couple were asked to share information about Iowa's culture, including a presentation about the litte-understood Amish population that existed in Iowa and across the Americas. The presentation quickly grew to be a popular one as the Kramers presented their work at their local Dyersville Library. The program was shared to other libraries, who swiftly began to express interest and invite the Kramers to present across Iowa.

"Our first presentation was in Pella in September, so we haven't even been doing it a for a year and we've been in over 50 libraries," Dianne said. "We are still scheduled for 30 or 40 more."

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The Kramer's program looks at nearly every aspect of Amish living through research of various reliable sources and talking with several members of the community in Hazelton and the surrounding area. Using these sources through a powerpoint slideshow and relating their own personal stories, Don and Dianne switch through subjects beginning with the growth of the Amish. According to their research, there were 5,000 Amish in the United States in 1920 and now that number has grown to 318,400 in 2018, with 9,070 in Iowa alone. The three top states in terms of Amish population are Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the latter of which was where the Amish first originated from upon coming to America to find religious freedom. Religion play a large role of all Amish life and goes hand-in-hand with "The Ordnung", or order/discipline that consists of oral rules that all Amish in a settlement must follow.

"As educators, we know the value of information and knowledge, and we feel strongly that because the Amish are misunderstood we can offer knowledge through our program that can lead to tolerance," Dianne said. "In our society today, there's enough tolerance for people who are not like we are as a whole. These folks do what they do for a reason and are commited to their beliefs."

The Amish first came to what would be the US in the early 1700s mainly from Germany and Switzerland, lead by Jakob Ammann of which his name became the namesake of the Amish. Their simplistic lifestyle is totally intentional as they believe in simplicity, humilty and obedience above individuality or personal gain. According to the material cited by the Kramers, The Amish are considered "functionally trilingual" as they speak Pennsylvania Dutch within their family, friends and sermons; English in writing, instruction in school and business tractions; Standard German for bible readings, of which they use the Martin Luther Bible. Families attend church every other Sunday, spending the other Sunday studying the Bible in the privacy of their own homes.

"We enjoy sharing our knowledge with our audience because we like the interaction and questions from them," Don said. "There are so many people interested in The Amish but they don't know hardly anything about them. Many have seen them, maybe read a little about them, but they don't know the inter-workings, culture and what goes on in Amish daily life. Being able to expose that and give people a better view is what this is all about."

Misconceptions abound in "English" society, as the Amish refer to us as, because of cable TV shows, unreliable sources and perhaps the most public view of the Amish some of us have: the coming age, Rumspringa. According to the Kramers, Rumspringa is a time of discovery of the outside world and themselves for young people ages 15 to 26. They are not technically considered Amish until they are baptized, which does not happen at infancy like other forms of Christianity.

"There's media out there that present these Amish kids as being wild and easy, spending all their time drinking, having sex, everything," Dianne said. "It's a time of discovery for them and people like to believe everything they hear from these stories."

"It's difficult for many Amish to live in the outside world with no family out there, there on their own and 95 percent choose to stay Amish," Don added.

A full room downstairs in the library took note of the Kramer's program, tried some Amish bakery treats and saved a few questions at the end. While not everything can be explored in a two-hour lecture, the couple were able to give the audience a glimpse they likely have never had before of Amish life from education to growing up to death in Amish society. Several attendees also walked out with door prizes of baked Amish goods to take home along with their newfound knowledge.



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