I spent the first week of May in the Finger Lakes Knowing that this part of New York had a substantial Amish community, I decided that this was an opportune time to learn about that community.
New York Amish: Life in the Plain Communities of the Empire State by Karen Johnson-Weiner recounts the history of Amish settlement in New York state. This is a well-written history, explaining first the origins of the faith of the Amish in the Protestant Reformation.
The Amish in New York arrived from other American Amish communities after World War II. An anthropologist by training, Johnson-Weiner emphasizes the diversity of these “modern” groups of Amish people. Most migration, we learn, is the result of conflict within a community. Conflict that cannot be resolved often sees one group leaving the larger group to found their own settlement of like-minded settlers.
There is something fascinating about these people who turn away from modernity as part of their expression of faith. The Amish, by living apart from the world, seek to escape the contagion of progress, which they believe takes them further from God.
While not educated beyond Grade 8, Amish children are schooled in the knowledge of the countryside and farming. Gender plays a strong role in the community with men and women having clear tasks. As much as these gendered traditions may challenge us, we can certainly applaud the sustainability of the Amish way of life, especially if it provides a peaceful life away from the stresses of the modern world.