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, Toshav Israel recalls a particularly distasteful breakfast in the Love Family.
"A Way to Serve Others"
In the early 1970s I followed my twin sister into the Love Family. I was seeking a way to serve others and live my faith. In attempting to join my twin, I was sent by the leader, Love Israel, to live in the elder Solemn's home. Solemn's simple style of life was serious. Unlike the home of the elder Artistry, where paints and laughter abounded, Solemn's home was filled with actions like contemplating how many times we chewed wheat berries before swallowing. The small house he ruled was probably built in the late 1930s, with two bedrooms and one bathroom. Solemn had his own room, while women shared the second bedroom and men were demoted to bunks in the basement.
It started on a crisp Northwest morning, one where breath hangs in the air. My friend Talia and I were dressing. To keep the minimal amount of heat in the room, I slammed the door shut just as Solemn walked by. We had affronted his masculinity, putting him as a dirty old man leering into our bedroom. He might have been a dirty young man. I don’t know. He was THE person in power and he immediately took charge.
"Everyone strip naked or hit the bricks," he announced. I wondered if we would be allowed to wear clothing if we left. I thought Eve at least got a fig leaf. Bettina, the stern elder lady, stripped first and prepared the meal. Next in the casting call for the short documentary on the Naked Breakfast came five women: myself, Talia, Adina, Zilpah, and Bettina, and four men: Solemn, Ezra, Hardy, and his brother Intention.
Talia would be scarred for life and branded on her backside by sitting too close to the stove. I had never seen naked people before (other than as an adolescent when I traded my dad’s purloined nude magazines to Richard Campbell in exchange for doing my math). Solemn led the prayer to his Creator, who was either naked or clothed. This was not the last humiliation. We had one more breakfast encounter.
A few days later Chuck the Baker sent donuts. Solemn announced men could eat as many as they liked. Women? Half a donut, no more, because we could get fat. Bettina walked over, picked up laundry, walked out the door, slapped it down in a little wagon tied to a bicycle and peddled off. "I don’t think we will see her again," I thought. The next time I saw her she was a longshoreman.
Years passed. I flip-flopped out of the family. I still maintained close relationships with my sister, who stayed. I was invited on a dreamy June afternoon to a Peace in The Park Love Family music event. I convinced two of my friends it would be a really fun day. As we were leaving the event, Ezra spotted that we came in a car. "Hey, can I hitch a ride to downtown Seattle?" "Do you know this guy," my friends asked? "Yes," I replied. He comandeered the front seat, leaned over, leered at me, and said, "Hey, remember that naked breakfast we shared together?" No one said a word except for Ezra, who added, "I SURE remember that!" Next, he detailed for the crowd a few more juicy morsels he fondly remembered.
The lady driving the car pulled over. Ezra hopped out and with a wicked grin, gave me a thumbs up. The driver immediately shut the engine down, turned around, looked at me and said. "Is that true?" Everyone in the car -- people I had met in a conservative Christian church -- glared at me. "Yup," I answered, "but it wasn't what you really think it was."
Toshav Israel is contemplating her next flip flop but has enjoyed each one. She knows that her faith provides her with a compass, strength, and guidance.