The communal Love Israel Family was located in Seattle from 1968 to 1984 and in rural Snohomish County for 20 more years. Its founder and leader was Love Israel, who was born Paul Erdmann in 1940 and died in 2016. His followers -- as many as 350 at one point -- adopted the Israel surname along with first names that represented virtues or biblical figures. In this personal reminiscence written for HistoryLink, D. L. Rivers writes about her 26 years in the Love Israel Family.
Giving up the Past
The stories of the Love Israel Family are best told by those of us who experienced Family life. Each story is different, depending on who you were and where you lived at any given phase as the years passed. What follows is my perspective:
I left my home in Arlington, and on an April evening in 1974, I stood naked in front of a large group of people I barely knew and was baptized into The Love Family. I gave up my name, my possessions, ties to my parents, siblings, and everyone else from my past. I made a commitment to this group of people, their ideas, and their charismatic leader. I agreed that my baptism represented marriage the Family as a whole. I was 25, a mother of two, and pregnant with my third child. I was a battered woman seeking refuge, desperate to start a new life, and in the process lost custody of two of my children to my ex-husband. I stayed in the Family for 26 years.
In the beginning days, there were no clocks or mirrors. We didn't handle money, and there were no televisions or radios. The only book that was allowed was the Bible. When our children were born they were not given birth certificates. We believed we were eternal, therefore there was no need for age. A charter of the Church of Jesus Christ at Armageddon was written and distributed to the Family, stating the doctrine. Love Israel was the final authority.
Life within the group was based on the New Testament. We were going to change the world by living together every day on the premise of We Are One, Love is the Answer, Now is the Time. The focus was on the whole of the Family and our time was strictly scheduled. There were meetings early each morning. These were mandatory, as were the weekly twice-a-day Saturday meetings and weekly men's and women's meetings.
The Family was composed of households, set up as patriarchy. Each household had two elders, a man, and a woman. The man had more power. The rest of the household served the elders, who in turn served Love. The women were taught to defer to the men and if there was a disagreement we needed to agree with the man in order to keep the peace.
Each day was spent in a group, whether it be homeschooling, gardening, or participating in various projects. The women birthed their children at home, and most of the births were successful. Childcare was shared. One or two people watched a group of children so that others would be free to meet or work. We called them "kid watches." The parents were not referred to as Mommy and Daddy but called by their virtue names, such as Strength, Charity, or Obedience. Virtue names were also bestowed on the children who were born into the Family. When our kids reached junior-high age they went to public school, and in spite of the odd names, they were accepted and did well, getting good grades and participating in sports.
There was not much time for the nurturing of the nuclear units, and we were pressured to "adopt" newcomers into our households, often without knowing anything about the background or the past of the newcomers. This made me uncomfortable because our living quarters were so close, but I was discouraged to bring up the issue because I felt when the mothers expressed their concerns they were not heard.
Relationships were governed by the head of the family and the elders. If it was noticed that two people showed an interest in one another, the elders were asked for a blessing or a "sanction." To my knowledge, there were no ceremonies to acknowledge or celebrate these unions. Polygamy was encouraged for the men, and the women were told to get above jealousy.
At first, it was easier to go along with everything, and I believed I was doing the right thing with my life. I was busy with being a mother and had no input as to the governing of the Family. That was up to the elders. For many years I cared for my children in a yurt without electricity or an indoor bathroom. I hauled laundry in five-gallon plastic buckets to the community laundry room in all seasons, rain, snow, or shine. In the later years, the gulf between Love and his household's lifestyle and the rest of us widened. There was no transparency as far as the financial aspects of running the family and substance abuse had become prevalent in certain inner circles, but this was not openly talked about. We were not to question because this would mean we were disloyal. I felt like obedience was the priority, especially if you were a woman -- you were to keep quiet and not rock the boat.
"I Had No Power"
For me, after the 1984 breakup the inequity became more glaring. Several of the households were struggling to provide basics for their children, such as food and clothing. Any money that was made was turned into the whole and what was left was meager. A few of the mothers spoke up but were not heard. People started leaving the ranch.
The worst thing for me was the feeling that I had no power in my own life. I knew things were not working but I didn't know how to change my circumstances. Aside from having very few resources, I didn't want to disrupt my children's lives. How would I make it as a single mother outside the boundaries of the Family? The fathers of the children were sometimes more loyal to the Family than to the mothers of their children. I felt like I had no voice.
D. L. Rivers is a mother, grandmother, and self-taught poet and writer. She has journaled about her life for many years, both within the Family and after. She is presently  working on her family history and genealogy, along with her memoirs.
More Love Israel Family Stories: A Broken Rainbow by Understanding Israel, Counterculture Crossover by Rachel Israel, Fat Farm by Eve Ingraham, Flip Flops and Naked Breakfasts by Toshav Israel.