Article outs the Amish kids
Good reviews, skepticism
greet debut of Amish show
By Robert Rhodes
Mennonite Weekly Review
UPN’s reality series, Amish in the City, which debuted July 28 before 5.2 million viewers, is still being criticized by people who believe it belittles the Amish faith.
Meanwhile, a Mennonite scholar has determined the closely-guarded identities of most of the Amish people in the show.
The series, which debuted with a two-hour episode and was the night’s second-highest rated show, places five young Amish adults in a tricked-out Hollywood pad with six big-city counterparts.
But how authentic is the series and its premise? As sociologist Donald Kraybill has noted, the Amish portrayed in the show are not mainstream churchgoers but have chosen to live at the extremities of their Amish upbringing.
“I think that viewers need to realize [the Amish depicted in the show] are already on the fringes of their communities, if they haven’t already left,” said Kraybill, a scholar at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College and the author of several studies of the Amish.
In the first episode, the group moved into the house, bought groceries, shopped for new clothes and visited the ocean, among other activities.
During the trip to the ocean, 24-year-old Mose Gingerich, a former Amish schoolteacher from Greenwood, Wis. — the only one of the group who has been baptized into the Amish church — appeared to nearly drown. He was rescued from the waves by Ariel, a sun-splashed Los Angeles vegan who also lives in the house.
Mose was not the only one unaccustomed to the urban waters.
In another segment, Miriam Troyer — the daughter of Amish Bishop John D. Troyer of Fredericksburg, Ohio — claims she has never seen a parking meter, a proposition Kraybill believes is bogus and evidence of the series’ loose affiliation with actual reality.
“I find that ridiculous,” said Kraybill. “This is very much a staged performance.”
Kraybill also questioned the assertion that none of the Amish in the show had ever seen the ocean. Though the debut indicated that Amish people never visit the beach, Kraybill said it is not uncommon for Amish in eastern Pennsylvania to visit the Atlantic coast. Amish also visit the Great Lakes and, occasionally, other recreational areas.
Of course, they don’t do it in bikinis or Speedos.
Despite such reactions, and the controversy the show has generated since it was announced in January, many media critics have pronounced the show positive and even poignant for its portrayal of Amish faith values.
“It does raise interesting questions about the meaning of religious faith, making a commitment to a community and the shallowness of the outside world,” Kraybill said.
Joe Springer, curator of the Mennonite Historical Library in Goshen, Ind., has tried to gather some biographical information on the five Amish young people.
Using various family directories and other sources, Springer has confirmed the identities of all but the young woman named Ruth — no last names are given on the show — who, according to UPN and other sources, is a 20-year-old factory worker from Ashland, Ohio.
Like Kraybill, Springer believes the show plays a lot on setups instead of naturally occurring interactions.
“The show was not unlike what I know of other reality shows in that the circumstances are highly contrived and not natural to anyone involved,” Springer said Aug. 2.
Also like Kraybill, Springer found the incident with the parking meter suspicious.
According to Springer and other sources, including UPN, the other Amish members of the cast are as much alike as they are different.
Jonas is Jonas P. Kurtz, 18, of Jamesport, Mo.
According to an Ohio Mennonite pastor, who asked that his name not be used, Kurtz’s family moved to Jamesport from Ohio in the mid-1960s.
The minister — a cousin to Kurtz’s father, Perry — said the family later moved to Bloomfield, Iowa, after concerns arose about the behavior of the Amish youth in the Jamesport area.
Jonas and an older brother later returned to Jamesport, the relative said, where Jonas has worked in construction. The brother reportedly drowned in a pond in 2001.
According to the relative, Kurtz initially turned down an offer to appear on the show. But after being offered $30,000, he relented. Other published reports have said that cast members were each paid $20,000 to appear on the series.
Randy — whose muscular physique caught the attention of the city girls on the show’s debut — is Randy D. Stoll, 24, of Montgomery, Ind., according to Springer. Like Kurtz, he also is a construction worker.
Mose Gingerich was baptized at age 17 in Wisconsin and later taught in an Amish school for three years, according to UPN.
On the show, Gingerich said he decided to take his own version of rumspringa (“running around”), the Amish coming-of-age romp in the world, to make up for his lost youth.
Typically, only unbaptized teenagers indulge in rumspringa, which can involve a variety of taboo activities, from smoking and drinking alcohol to far more serious involvements.
However, because he is baptized and a member of the church, Gingerich would have to apologize and undergo church discipline if he decided to return to the Amish fold.
Miriam Troyer, who reportedly lives at Berlin, Ohio, works as a waitress and hotel maid, according to UPN. She also revealed in the debut that Stoll is a former boyfriend.
In addition to Ariel, the city denizens in the series include Kevan, a Las Vegas salesman and swim instructor; Meagan, a freelance fashion stylist from Chicago; Nick, a busboy and musician from Boston; Reese, an openly gay L.A. club promoter, originally from Hattiesburg, Miss., who helps the Amish men pick out clothing in a particularly amusing segment; and Whitney, an African American college student from Los Angeles whose boyfriend was killed in an unsolved drive-by shooting, according to UPN.