I’ve always viewed the Amish as an intriguing group of people. Every time I meet them, they are sure not to disappoint. Several years ago, my family was visiting Watkins Glen on the way up to Niagara Falls. Towards the end of the day, my husband received an emergency phone called which had to be dealt with on the spot. We had calculated how much time we would need to get to Niagara Falls in time for minchah but the call threw us off schedule. We weren’t sure we would make it on time. My husband was in aveilus at the time so missing minyan was not an option. Since it was Bein Hazmanim I decided to look around and see if I could spot any people of the fold. Wherever we travel, we always manage to meet some Jews so I thought we had a decent chance of putting together a minyan. At first, I didn’t see anyone who looked Jewish but then I spotted a clan relaxing at a picnic table. The men were wearing black and white, the women were dressed very tzanuah, and I was positive I had struck gold. Problem solved. But as I inched closer, I noticed that the men looked a bit off. Although they were wearing black and white, many were wearing knickers with suspenders, unlike the garb I’m familiar with. Their hair was also quite long, not trim as I would expect right after Tisha B’Av. As I moved even closer, I noticed that although the men had beards, they did not have mustaches. I was barking up the wrong tree. This clan was not a frum family. They were Amish. No point in looking for a minyan there. We quickly left and luckily made it to Buffalo on time for minchah.
A few years ago, my family went on a trip to Amish country. We hit the typical tourist sites and then drove around to see the real Amish Country. When we noticed a group of horse and buggies pulled over at the side of the road, we parked and followed the locals to an outdoor version of Amazing Savings. What really was amazing was that when we came to check out with our purchases, we found that the cashier was blind. He asked us what we bought and how much everything cost. Then he asked us how much we paid him so that he could give us the correct change. Impressive, no?
The most intriguing story by far that my family had with the Amish was something that my parents experienced. They also liked to veer off the beaten track when they traveled and really see the places they visited. When they went to Amish Country, one of the locals offered them a ride in his buggy. He would show them around his farm and house. It was an offer they couldn’t decline. While they were riding in the man’s buggy, they noticed all sorts of electronic equipment being used on the man’s fields. My parents were surprised by this since it is well known that Old Amish don’t use electricity. My father garnered the nerve and asked their driver how it is that he is allowed to use electric equipment on his field. The man waved his hand and said, “Don’t ask. If I tell you, you will never believe me.” My father told him that he’d been around the block and had heard all kinds of unusual reasons for all sorts of things. He didn’t think that anything the man would tell him could possibly surprise him. The driver did not want to explain but my father was persistent. He could not reconcile all that he knew about the Amish with what he was witnessing in front of his eyes. In the end he managed to convince the driver to explain his actions. And the driver was right: My father was surprised, but not for the reason his driver expected. The driver explained that if he sells his land to someone who is not Amish, then he is permitted to use electronic equipment on his property. My father was astounded. Heter mechirah!! In Amish Country!!
During this most recent time period of the coronavirus, our lives have taken on a much more quaint and simple quality, similar to the Amish. The Amish hold their services in people’s homes, can’t travel too far from their communities in their horse and buggies, and overall lead wholesome, unpretentious lives. We have also been holding our minyanim at peoples’ homes, have been limited in our travel, and due to the restrictions placed upon us, have been leading much simpler lives. Our foods, activities, and simchas have gone back to a much basic, wholesome standard.
As much as we have common ground with the Amish, truthfully, we are drastically different. Our practices, traditions, and rituals are rooted in the Torah which we received directly from Hashem. But although we are always trying to follow the word of Hashem, there has been a certain change in how we do things of late. In many ways the change has been for the better. I sincerely hope that we are able to hold on to some of these changes long after the coronavirus leaves us. It will certainly lower our stress levels and enhance the quality of our lives and relationships.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.