I AM AARON ZOOK

Kutztown was the home of the Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Festival. If you are not sure what the word Dutch means, it is a corruption of the word Deutch ( German). The people that settled Berks, Lancaster and Lebanon Counties in Pa were German people who came here in the early 18th century. George Kutz came from the Palatinate section of Germany. The Amish folks ( Jakob Amman) and the Mennonites ( Frisio Menno Simons, writer in the latter part of the 16th century) left the old world to come to a new land. The Amish spoke mostly German ( they were from Switzerland, Alsace and the Palatinate). Each year at the end of June and the beginning of July, the Pennsylvania Dutch Folks Festival took place on the Kutztown Fairgrounds across the way from the College. Many Kutztownians left their regular jobs and took gigs at the festival- taking tickets, selling funnel cakes, sausage sandwiches and also selling beautiful quilts. Some of us were involved in the presentation of a play that portrayed the Amish way of life.
Richard Gougler ( bless his soul) was the Chairman of the Kutztown Area Senior High School Math Department and the author of a number of plays that were produced at the Folk Festival. All of the characters were played by local people. Even children got into the act and each performance was a sell out ( it was free once you got into the festival).
For a number of years, replete with a beard, I was a character in the play. I played the heavy, Aaron Zook, who had not time for people who did not follow the Amish way of life. I was at the forefront of shunning those who did not comply and had a very stern warning for people in the audience who thought that they could get away with not doing the same.
We sang songs and generally had a great time. My own children, Marc and Dara were part of the goings on and we had a great time for those 11 days. Each day had two performances and we hung around the festival in our costumes, or went home. It was a change from our normal lives. We even had some of our relatives come and see us. I am not sure they understood what the superintendent of schools was doing in such a getup.
After some of the plays, we would all get together and have snacks and just tell jokes and kid around. We got to know people and still communicate with some of them to this day. We did not take ourselves too seriously as either actors, singers of members of the Amish community.
After one particular performance, Dick Gougler and I were just hanging around a fence in the back of the outdoor theater. We heard loud voices coming toward us. One of the voices sounded younger and the other a more mature voice. The younger voice said, “ These people are fakes, they are no more Amish than I am. Why did we come to this place and get gyped?” The more mature voice said, “ Calm down , I see two of the people standing over there by the fence.” Let’s ask them.”
As they came closer, we saw an older woman and a young woman of about 18 or so. The older woman was obviously the mother to the younger. They both had a New Yawk accent. The mother approached us and asked if we were really Amish. I remained silent. Dick said that the Amish would not participate in anything like the festival and singing and acting. The mother nodded her head , but the young woman said, “ See, I told you it was all fake, these people are not Amish and we paid money to get in here and money to park. It is all crap.”
The two walked away still jawing at each other. Dick turned to me and asked why I had not said a word. “ Dick, these people came from New York. The young girl was wearing a Star of David. What would she have done if I told her and her mom that I was a New York Jew playing an Amish farmer?”

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