So I have in my possession the most recent national edition an Amish newspaper — the Amish newspaper, really: The Budget. It serves both the Amish and Mennonite communities, and it’s not like any print publication you’ve ever seen before.
As the Amish make very little use of technology, The Budget serves as a primary form of social communication between the far-flung Amish districts. The national edition “includes letters from scribes around the globe and throughout the United States. It consists of 3 – 4 sections of the Amish and Mennonite newsletters, showers, obituaries, memoriams, classified ad pages and other advertising.”
Page after page (44 pages, in four sections) of reports about individual communities: The weather, the crops, who visited whom, who had a baby, how an 11 year old broke his leg (on the trampoline), and who’s been sick and needs a hand. There’s a “Showers” section (quotation marks in the original) devoted to asking folks to shower certain community members with cards and letters, whether because that broken leg will make the summer very long for the boy in question, or because a new baby is a time of celebration, or because the news from Mayo was bad and so-and-so’s family could really use the support at such a difficult time. Ads for buggies, horse auctions, and various health remedies, not to mention the Amish Wedding Planner.
It’s a beautiful slice of community life that I think tells me more about what those communities mean to their members than nearly anything I could find about Mennonites or Amish written from the outside, and as we picked the paper up this weekend at the front desk of our hotel at Amish Acres (a hotel not frequented by Amish or Mennonites), I can only imagine its publishers and writers (I have the impression that the duty of writing in to The Budget every week gets shared around within the individual districts, but I’m not sure) are comfortable with the notion of strangers such as myself seeing their news. I feel lucky to have stumbled upon The Budget.
And here’s the part that made my family and me laugh out loud:
There’s a report from Jerusalem, filed by one Kevin Byers, who’s serving there with Christian Aid Ministries, an international Amish/Mennonite/Anabaptist aid organization. Sandwiched between a brief and strikingly accurate analysis of the newly-renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a mention of visitors to the Jerusalem community, the report tells us this:
There are many differences of culture between the United States and Israel. One of those that is glaringly obvious and quite shocking to a Westerner visiting Israel for the first time is the lack of customer service. In America most successful businesses operate from this premise: The customer comes first. Here the customer can get the feeling that he doesn’t matter, or that the cashier considers it a bother to serve him, or that he is doing something wrong if he buys too much of one item. Besides that you will likely find yourself fighting to stay in “your” place in the checkout line because others will simply push towards the counter and leave you wondering what’s wrong with these people! These are not blanket statements but only too true in many cases. Recently some friends of our were called rubbish by the shopkeeper because they didn’t want to buy anything! So much for promoting your business!
My favorite part is the exclamation point after “people.”