Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish

Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish

by Tom Shachtman
     
 

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A revelatory look at Amish youth as they have never been looked at before

Rumspringa is a fascinating look at a little-known Amish coming-of-age ritual, the rumspringa--the period of "running around" that begins for their youth at age sixteen. Through vivid portraits of teenagers in Ohio and Indiana, Tom Shachtman
offers an account of

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Overview

A revelatory look at Amish youth as they have never been looked at before

Rumspringa is a fascinating look at a little-known Amish coming-of-age ritual, the rumspringa--the period of "running around" that begins for their youth at age sixteen. Through vivid portraits of teenagers in Ohio and Indiana, Tom Shachtman
offers an account of Amish life as a mirror to the soul-searching and questing that we recognize as a generally intrinsic part of adolescence.

The trappings of the Amish way of life--the "plain" clothes and electricity-free farms--conceal the communities' mystery: how they manage to retain their young people and perpetuate themselves generation after generation. The key to this is the rumspringa, when Amish youth are allowed to live outside the bounds of their faith, experimenting with alcohol, premarital sex, trendy clothes, telephones, drugs, and wild parties. By allowing them such freedom, their parents hope they will learn enough to help them make the most important decision of their lives--whether to be baptized as Christians, join the church, and forever give up worldly ways, or to remain out in the world.

In this searching book, Shachtman draws on his skills as a documentarian to capture young people on the cusp of a fateful decision, and to give us an original and deeply affecting portrait of the Amish as a whole.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A teenage Amish girl sits in her buggy, one hand dangling a cigarette while the other holds a cellphone in which she is loudly chatting away. This girl, like many Amish teens 16 and older, is in a period called rumspringa, when the strict rules of community life are temporarily lifted while an adolescent chooses whether to be baptized into the church and abide fully by its laws. Shachtman, a documentarian who began studying this phenomenon for the film The Devil's Playground, is a sensitive and nimble chronicler of Amish teens, devoting ample space to allowing them to tell their stories in their own words. And their stories are fascinating, from the wild ones who engage in weekend-long parties, complete with hard drugs and sexual promiscuity, to the more sedate and pious teens who prefer to engage in careful courtship rituals under the bemused eyes of adult Amish chaperones. Shachtman's tone is by turns admiring-of the work ethic, strong families and religious faith that undergird Amish life-and critical, especially of the sect's treatment of women and its suspicion of education beyond the eighth grade. Throughout, Shachtman uses the Amish rumspringa experience as a foil for understanding American adolescence and identity formation in general, and also contextualizes rumspringa throughout the rapidly growing and changing Amish world. This is not only one of the most absorbing books ever written about the Plain People but a perceptive snapshot of the larger culture in which they live and move. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Writer, novelist, and documentarian Shachtman has created a fascinating and near-unprecedented glimpse into the inner lives of Amish society. The Amish, descendants of a German separatist sect long settled in this country, live apart from mainstream culture in almost every way, with the curious exception that, for a brief period in their adolescence, Amish youth are permitted a spell of license and experimentation before they decide to become full Amish adults. This work, based in part on research done for the related documentary, Devil's Playground, sensitively addresses the unique position of the Amish and the challenges they face. Highly recommended. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Shachtman expands his documentary film, The Devil's Playground, in this study of a social rite of passage. The Old Order Amish, concentrated in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, but with communities in Wisconsin, Missouri, and even Colorado, eschew or deeply limit not only 20th-century technologies, but also modern consumerism, education, and any form of "worldly" activity. However, when Amish youth reach the age of about 16, they enter a months- to years-long period of "running around," or rumspringa, during which there is the tacit acceptance and expectation that they will participate in such activities as drinking, sexual exploration, automobile driving, and living away from the community. The author examines the role rumspringa plays in the life of the community, the teens, and the teens' families (who are better- or worse-prepared emotionally for their once-obedient children to flaunt not only home rules, but perhaps even to get arrested by state authorities). The author concisely but cogently describes Amish shunning, education, farming and other work, and gender politics. Some kids move out of state during the period, some become drug dealers; most, however, live out a more moderate form of "going away," and between 80 and 90 percent return, are baptized, and become fully accepting members of the Amish world. While readers familiar with the Amish as neighbors will find much insight into the plain people's whys and wherefores here, all teens will find accessible information about the psychology of late adolescence and the developmental work of independence.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Even Amish teenagers need to blow off steam. Shachtman (Terrors and Marvels, 2001, etc.) describes the rite of passage called rumspringa, which allows these kids to sample their "English" counterparts' vices-drinking, drug use, casual sex-before deciding whether to accept the Amish way of life and renounce those excesses for good. Surprisingly, perhaps, studies show that nearly 80 percent of Amish youngsters in the rural enclaves of Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio eventually settle down to a way of life in which they do without such modern staples as electricity, television and automobiles. This in-depth, generally fascinating account presents the hardships and rewards of that lifestyle, focusing on young Amish who must make a choice about it. Readers may be surprised to read of gatherings in which hundreds of Amish teens meet in rural fields and barns for weekend-long drinking and drug parties. Their parents generally accept the practice, believing that youth will willingly embrace the Amish life only after tasting what they'll be giving up. Shachtman shows the Amish struggling to maintain their separateness in a changing world. The traditional Amish farm now employs only 20 percent of the community's adults, forcing many to seek work in the factories, woodworking shops and tourist restaurants of the English world. Since Amish youth usually are expected to leave school and join the workforce after eighth grade (in January 2004, President Bush signed a law exempting the Amish from child-labor restrictions), employment options are severely restricted, especially for women. On the other hand, their support system is a marvel, even providing free health care and retirement support to churchmembers. Shachtman's book suffers somewhat from an over-reliance on windy research studies and tomes like the Mennonite Quarterly Review. Since he eschews surnames in favor of last initials, it's difficult to keep track of his characters as he leapfrogs among their stories. Nevertheless, a riveting and instructive portrait.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781466805132
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
05/29/2007
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
611,976
File size:
0 MB

Read an Excerpt


Excerpted from Rumspringa by Tom Shachtman. Copyright © 2006 by Tom Shachtman. Published in June 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

1

"Going Away"

In the gathering dusk of a warm, humid summer Friday evening in northern Indiana, small groups of Amish-born girls between the ages of sixteen and nineteen walk along straight country lanes that border flat fields of high cornstalks and alfalfa, dotted here and there with neat, drab houses set back from the roads. One pair of girls walks westward, another pair eastward toward the destination; a threesome travels due south. Although not yet baptized members of the church, these young ladies all wear traditional "plain" Amish garb: solid-colored, long-sleeved dresses with aprons over them, long stockings and black shoes; white bonnets indicative of their status as unmarried cover their long hair, which is parted in the middle and pinned up in the back. A few carry small satchels. Though they are used to exercise and walking strongly, their demeanor is demure, so that they appear younger than non-Amish girls of the same age. The walkers pass homes where the women and children in the yards, taking in the last of the wash off clotheslines, wear no shoes, as though to better sense the warm air, grass, and dirt between their toes. Along these country lanes, while there are a few homes belonging to the "English," the non-Amish, most are owned by Old Order Amish families.

As the shards of sunset fade, electric lights are turned on in the English homes, but only the occasional gas lamp pierces the twilight of the Amish homesteads, illuminating buggies at rest in driveways, silhouetting horses in small pastures against high clouds, and here and there a dog and cat wandering about. No music can be heard coming from the Amish houses as the girls walk past, no faint whisper of broadcast news, no whir of air conditioners. All that disturbs the calm is the occasional animal bark, whinny, snort, or trill, and every few minutes the rapid clop-clop-clop of a horse-drawn vehicle going past; the girls' peals of laughter sound as innocent, as timeless, and as much a part of the natural surround as birds' calls.

From their several directions, the walkers converge on the home of another teenage Amish girl. There they go upstairs to the bedroom shared by the young females of the family, to huddle and giggle in anticipation of what is to happen later that night, after full dark. In a window visible from the lane, they position a lit gas lamp, and they leave open an adjacent side door to the house and stairway. These are signals to male Amish youth out "cruising" that there are young ladies inside who would welcome a visit, and who might agree to go out courting--a part of the rumspringa, or "running-around," tradition that has been passed down in Amishdom for many generations.

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