As far as Torah Bontrager can tell, she is the first Amish person to graduate from an Ivy League school. Bontrager's path to Columbia University was fraught with pain, however, and she shared her story in her memoir, "An Amish Girl in Manhattan: Escaping at Age 15, Breaking All the Rules, and Feeling Safe Again," which was published in 2017.
Bontrager's experiences led to the formation of the Amish Heritage Foundation (AHF), which is dedicated to advocating for people inside and outside the Amish Church - what is known in non-Amish societies as "Old Order" - and making the transition smoother for those who have left or wish to leave. "We're the only nonsectarian institution that advocates for Amish people and engages their issues and educates the general public," Bontrager commented. "The three overarching initiatives of the foundation are education, female-driven entrepreneurship/leadership, and health and well-being."
Along with AHF board member Elam Zook, who describes himself as noncompliant Amish, Bontrager will host what they hope will become an annual conference, "Disrupting History: Reclaiming Our Amish Story," on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28 and 29, at Franklin & Marshall College, 415 Harrisburg Ave., Lancaster. The conference will be packed full of opportunities for attendees to explore issues related to Amish culture. Recordings of all 10 speakers and the panel discussion will be made accessible online for later reference.
The keynote address by law professor Marci Hamilton on Sept. 28 will focus on children's rights. In her book "God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty," which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, Hamilton wrote extensively about the Supreme Court case of Wisconsin vs. Yoder.
Galen Guengerich, who grew up Mennonite, will give the keynote address on Sept. 29. In his book "God Revised: How Religion Must Evolve in a Scientific Age," Guengerich asserts that the first step toward being set free is discovering where one belongs.
The conference will also include speakers who have left other religions, a sexual assault survivor and plaintiff in a landmark Amish case, and a panel of minority entrepreneurs including those with Amish, Mennonite, Navajo, Jewish, and Muslim backgrounds.
The Sept. 28 session will close with an uplifting live music performance by rhythm-and-blues singer-songwriter Tanisha Avent in the second-floor lounge of Tellus360, 24 E. King St., Lancaster. The performance will be open to the public. The conference will conclude on Sept. 29 with a closing reception hosted by Amish-Mennonite artist Freiman Stoltzfus at the Freiman Stoltzfus Gallery in downtown Lancaster.
Conference attendance is limited to 150 people. "We want this inaugural historic event to be truly memorable," Bontrager said. "The smaller group gives everyone in attendance the chance to connect meaningfully and develop lasting relationships."
Tickets are required and may be purchased at https://DisruptingHistory.eventbrite.com. A limited number of complimentary tickets for sexual assault survivors and ex-Amish are available, thanks to donor sponsorships. The foundation is looking for sponsors and volunteers to help make the event a success. To learn more, folks may visit http://www.AmishHeritage.org/events, find "Amish Heritage Foundation" on Facebook, or email info@AmishHeritage.org. Social media users may follow @AmishFoundation on Twitter and @AmishHeritageFound on Instagram.