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, Rachel Israel writes about the demise of the Love Israel Family and her adjustment to the outside world.
I was almost 15 when the Love Israel Family broke up in the mid-1990s. Suddenly my community, the only family I had ever known, dissolved, and I was thrust into the outside society. My life as I had known it since early childhood was over. Since there had been little interaction between my community and the outside world, I was a stranger in a strange land. The culture shock was severe. Though only a teenager, I came to a profound understanding: The community I was raised in was NOT normal.
In my memoir Counterculture Crossover: Growing Up in the Love Family, I shed light on the dark, conflicted, and more controversial aspects of the Love Family history. The amazing and at times excruciating details of my life growing up in community and my experiences transitioning into the outside world are illuminated in my memoir, which you can find on Amazon. I didn’t wait 35 years and then write my memoirs. A lot of my writing was done in my early adulthood, not long after I left the community. For those who are willing to accompany me on this journey through my memoir, I am confident that I accomplish what I set out to do, which is to tell a captivating and informative story of what it was like being raised in the Love Family.
My community wasn’t actually how most people lived. In the community, communal ties were emphasized. In the outside world there was a much larger society with a completely different government, leaders, and laws. It was a very confusing and terrifying adjustment to have to make without the community supports I was used to. Once the community disintegrated, my former caretakers were no longer a part of my life. In the Love Family, my mom had only had a peripheral role with me. However, once living on the outside, she was my primary caregiver, and she was going through culture shock too. I didn’t know my dad, as contact without the community was limited, and he was an outsider not a member.
Shared parenting is a great idea -- it takes a village to raise a child -- but communal bonds, even caring, loving attachments from significant others will never replace a child’s relationship with his or her parents, parents who are born with the instinct to protect, and kill if needed anyone who intends to harm their child. Why mess with this relationship unless there are no alternatives? The primacy of that bond has remained stable throughout human story for good reason: It works the best.
"High School was a Harrowing Experience"
Culture shock was the beginning of the rest of my life. High school was a harrowing experience. It was a lot of pressure to avoid social condemnation and ridicule from other kids who had no understanding of where I came from. I had come from a place where it seemed everyone was the same. I had been taught to love, but now I was in the outside world where it seemed people would take advantage of any weakness they saw in me. No one asked me if I was okay. No one ever told me there was such a thing as divorce. I was raised in a sort of communal utopia.
The Love Family developed its own religious identity and was called the Church of Armageddon. It was a secret society where members believed we would live forever in love and peace, striving to build our leader's vision of oneness, in our own isolated little hippie-cult bubble. Then suddenly, the bubble popped, and the community was metaphorically blown to smithereens. This was not typical divorce. Hundreds of people were involved. Adult ex-members had pieces to reassemble. They had the pieces of former lives, former identities -- childhoods raised in secular, conventional families. I didn’t have any pieces to pick up. My family was gone, my school was gone, and life as I knew it was gone. All I had known of life was viewed from a communal lens. I had slept each night in communal houses, and later tents and yurts on the communal farm. Everything about my social world, from how members behaved and related, I viewed from a communal lens. It was ALL I knew and it was gone.
I was sad. I had lost my way of life, my family, my community, almost everyone I had known, and my relationships with kids I had known my whole life were changing at our new school in Seattle. We distanced ourselves from each other, just trying to understand where we had come to be, and we were grappling with all the different social dynamics. Here we were thrown into this environment where all of our roles were being reformulated with each other and with the world around us. We were all living in different places at that point and in different situations. Here is an entry from my diary at that time:
Dear Diary: I had a nightmare last night. I dreamed that there was a nuclear war, and I could not find my friends. I finally found them, and we began hugging, but then my friends shriveled away and all that was left was their clothes. I asked people where my friends were, but they didn’t know and urged me towards the building where there were food lines and guards.
Now in my 50s and a mother, one of my reflections is of betrayal: The community that home-schooled me, made my clothes, established daily living patterns, politics, and meaning of life in my childhood, no longer exists. I was taught as a child that I was being raised in the Kingdom of Heaven and that we were all a part of the body of Christ. Now I am told that no, that was not the kingdom of heaven; that was just a bunch of bull.
After the breakup, there were years of conflict between factions of believers and non-believers. There was side taking and back stabbing. I kept close ties with a few people who I was close to. Now years later, I’m working in the healthcare field. I have chickens and a garden on five acres and face the challenges of raising teenagers and maintaining a marriage and a home. The future is unknown, but Counterculture Crossover, my memoir, stands as a testimony of the early chapters of my story: my struggles, traumas, victories, and adventures amidst a unique social experiment.
For more information, visit Rachelisrael.net, or follow this link to see her a copy of her memoir, Counterculture Crossover: Growing Up in the Love Family (https://www.amazon.com/dp/ 1732240019). Portions of this article were taken with permission from an article published in Communities Magazine (https://www.gen-us.net/communities/).
More Love Israel Family Stories: A Broken Rainbow by Understanding Israel, Fat Farm by Eve Ingraham, Flip Flops and Naked Breakfasts by Toshav Israel, Losing My Voice by D. L. Rivers.