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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Amish News: Smicksburg to Hollywood/Kentucky to Jail

The Big Makeover

     The "Los Angeles Times," on January 9, 2012, ran a puff-piece about how a former Amish girl has transformed herself into a quasi-celebrity who does hair and owns a salon in Echo Park, a trendy LA neighborhood not far from Hollywood. The article, in reflecting the author's utter revulsion of the Amish lifestyle when compared to the glitzy Hollywoodesque American dream, treats the story's protagonist as though she were a cold war East German who made it over the wall.

     Until she was 15, Miriam Jones (Is this her real name?) lived on an Amish dairy farm with her parents and five siblings near the western Pennsylvania village of Smicksburg, an old order enclave of 250-300 families 90 minutes northeast of Pittsburgh. Readers are not told why, in 1997, Miriam's parents left the Amish--for me the most interesting aspect of the story--beyond this: "But after losing his inheritance in what Jones described as a shady deal countenanced by old order Amish elders, her father lost faith." According to this Amish coming of age tale, Miriam's faher sold their homemade furniture, bought a car (he had a driver's license?) and hid it in the barn under hay until the family could make its escape. They settled in an unnamed town in Missouri where Jones and her parents "went through an intense spiritual and emotional crises. Overwhelmed by English life, Jones became depressed, and pregnant.

     Amish life, as described by Jones, is extremely primitive. Her younger siblings didn't speak a word of English, her parents were so uneducated they didn't "even know about wars that had happened," and "when we...saw white jet streams, we didn't kow they were planes. We thought they were clouds." (Give me a break.)

      A beauty makeover in a Missouri shopping mall changed Mirian's life, and put her on the road to success. The experience inspired her to acquire a high school equivalency certificate, and to become a hairdresser. In 2003, the beauty school graduate set out for Los Angeles with her daughter. She is now the proud owner of the high-end salon in Echo Park. She has been featured in a segment of the reality TV show, "Tabatha's Salon Takeover," has a license to fly a helicopter (huh?) as well as a hot-air balloon. Speaking of hot air, I feel an upcoming Miriam Jones TV reality adventure followed by a ghost-written memoir. I'll let you put a title to the show and the book.

     As to the whereabouts and fates of Miriam's parents and siblings, the "Los Angeles Times" reporter doesn't give us a clue. And why would she? That kind of information, although interesting, would spoil what is essentially a pitch for the TV and book deals. After reading this article, I'm tempted to get into my hot-air baloon and drift over to Smicksburg to get the real story.

Scofflaws or Shunned

     Recently, and over the past several years, members of the Swartzentruber Amish, a subgroup of old order Amish who refuse to mark their buggies with orange reflector signs, have gone to jail for not paying their traffic violation fines. These Swartzentruber Amish consider the orange relectors as fancy and worldly, therefore to display them is in violation of their religious doctrine of plain and simple. Several states such as Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania have allowed religious exemptions from the orange triangles, and the courts in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan have sided with the religious argument. Most Amish, however, even in these states, use the signs as well as battery operated lights as a matter of safety.

     In Kentucky, the orange triangle sign requirement is still the law, and last September, seven Swartzentruber Amish men from the western part of the state went to jail for refusing to pay their fines. On January 12, 2012, ten men from the same group in Graves County, Kentucky were put behind bars. According to one of the jailed men, Jacob Gingerich, if he and the others obeyed the Kentucky law, or paid the fine, they would be shunned by the out-of-state Swartzentruber clans. Gingerich and the other Amish men also use lanterns instead of the battery operated buggy lights, and reflective tape instead of the fancy orange signs.

     Legislators in Kentucky are considering exempting the Amish from these highway safety requirements.

    

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