Torah Bontrager was born and raised Old Order Amish and became the first Amish-escapee to graduate from an Ivy League school: Columbia University in New York City. She grew up with no electricity, no TV, no radio, no Internet, no cars, and up until the age of 10, no running hot water and no indoor bathroom. She learned how to grow her own veggies from heirloom seeds, raise animals for meat, hunt deer in the fall and forage for mushrooms, berries and plants in the wild. When Torah was 11 years old, she consciously decided to leave the Amish church. After 4 years of planning and a failed first attempt, she literally escaped in the middle of the night at age 15 without telling anyone goodbye.
The next morning, her parents found the note that she had left on her nightstand announcing her permanent departure. Torah loved learning and wanted to explore the world and experience all the things that the religion prohibited. Her dreams were to go to Harvard and outer space, "impossibles" given her background and rudimentary Amish-only education.
Torah gave up everything--family, security, community, the only life she had ever known--in the hopes that one day her dreams might come true. Amish Girl is about the darkness she encountered navigating a foreign world alone and grappling with her demons. It's about her inner and outer quest for truth that took her all around the world. It's about her struggles to make sense of the abuse and repeat rape she endured from her parents and other family members. And it's about how she emerged from the underworld, from her tortured psyche, to create a life of beauty, happiness and freedom. She wouldn't be telling her story otherwise.
After dropping out of college at age 19 and traveling to around 30 countries, Torah returned to school and graduated with a degree in Philosophy in 2007.
2017 marks the 21-year anniversary of her new life. Now that she's educated herself on "the ways of the world" (good and bad), her focus is on facilitating positive change within the Amish, starting by the release of this memoir.
Her big vision is to rebrand and transform the Amish, a largely autonomous nation of people in the United States of America who migrated from Europe in the 1600s and who shun the use of electricity, speak their own language (Amish) and isolate themselves from mainstream America and the modern world.
There are many serious problems within the Amish that need to be addressed and hard questions that need to be answered:
*** How do you successfully transform an entire society to experience real love, fulfillment and meaning personally and collectively?
* To operate on love, rather than fear?
* To contribute their talents, gifts and potential to the planet instead of remaining paralyzed and stuck in isolationist mode?
* How do you help those who've left the church, or want to leave, to successfully make the transition to the outside world and integrate into mainstream American society?
* And how do you help those who are still inside the church who are unhappy and don't know who to turn to for help?**
The issues to be dealt with are best understood when you look at the Amish as an immigrant population, with all the challenges that an immigrant group faces--and with no legal representation nor outside funding.