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, Understanding Israel writes about the children of the Love Family.
A Path Fraught With Pain
I was a Republican, a mother, I had never smoked pot, nor used any drugs when I found myself at the doorstep of the Love Family in spring 1972. I stayed for 26 years. My path there was fraught with pain that I feel even today. Now in my eighth decade, I still believe in the vision I saw as Mrs. W. P. Rockefeller* on Bainbridge Island -- a vision that cost me two children, a marriage, and got me tossed into three mental-health wards and set up for electric-shock treatments by my husband.
The incident that precipitated this path? I was visited by a magnificent angel that told me heaven on Earth was as simple as "sharing everything." If I really shared, then "I would go to Israel." Zealously, I followed those angelic instructions, giving away money, time, materials, and unwanted advice. Thus I alarmed my political husband and much of the community. Those days no one gave angel pins or paid to hear the enlightened, who often then, like me, were involuntarily "imprisoned." Activist visionaries might get a straightjacket (like the one I was threatened with after I cleverly fled two other lockdowns).
Indeed I did find my Israel. It was the Love Israel Family. In retrospect I see the Love Family as founded by a generation beaten on the anvil of injustices, unrighteous war, and shaped in the crucible of idealisms and dreams of utopia. We had beautiful moments in the sunshine of our love for each other. We danced, wore royal handmade clothing, sang to our musicians and our own songs. We lived for a brief time in the dream of utopia. Our gardens bloomed, children were born, we ate homemade bread and planted arugula and potatoes. We made wine and gleaned in orchards we had not planted.
When I see the pictures from the '70s and '80s it looks carefree: all of us young, beautiful, dancing, singing, hugging. When I go now as a chaplain to mental institutions, funerals, addiction centers, visiting some of our kids I "helped to raise as a village" and grandchildren, I get sick. I spent years trying to figure it out. I almost completed a Ph.D of interviews with some. Where did we go wrong? What did I do or not do that caused so much pain for some, even if not all of our next generation? I don’t have a complete answer, but I have leads: It really did take a village. The question is not how powerful was the leader alone, but as a patriarchy: Who were the key men in power around Love Israel and what were their agendas and why as women did we so easily follow? As one of those women, I was awakened when a 13-year-old girl had a baby by a 30-year-old man. It was a jolt to my conscience. I woke up and eventually got my butt kicked out when I helped turn pedophiles into the police: finally.
Our Beloved Children
I was not concerned about the effects our dream of utopia had upon our children. We parents had been reared on television, tomato soup, and Disney, and in our rebellious youth disavowed trappings of that privilege. These later children (these sprouts) often had experienced cold nights in rustic quarters, and strange adults (for some) that did dark things in secret places. We parents honored a king, singing happy songs blithely unaware that brewing beneath our grown-up ideals were the mounting childhood traumas of our offspring.
After disillusionment and fall, some of our children wandered lost in the snows of memories and nightmares, hiding almost what could not be hidden: their wounds. Some killed themselves; well actually more than the average for their numbers killed themselves. Some turned to the food of their fathers -- called drugs -- once the enchantment stopped. These children were the flotsam and jetsam, collateral damage of our "mistaken" vision. Others languished in places where eddies carry the drowning: lockdowns in state mental institutions. They were prescribed legal substances in efforts to help them normalize, as if that would help each forget what they could not describe or even remember totally.
Many of our children are reaching remarkable achievements and are deeply bonded. Life for them is not a total loss. They care for the earth, grow gardens, are lawyers, teachers, nurses, social workers, mental-health counselors, small-business owners, writers, musicians, builders, real-estate agents, videographers, and parents. All is not dour. The castles of our broken dreams and misplaced fantasies dimmed but did not fade completely. These children, these now-adults, are fashioning the next chapter. One, Rachel Israel, wrote a book -- Counterculture Crossover: Growing Up in the Love Family -- that is available on Amazon. Some are warriors in the new battle: the climate. Others are content to be mothers and fathers building what they had not experienced: nuclear families. Some retreated to small farms and live mostly off the grid, while others embrace bustling cities and treasures, and are world travelers.
So the tale is not written by the failures or achievements of our community past alone. The next generations are moving on and taking with them their wounds but making new worlds from their successes, the insights, those harrowing days and the spangled broken rainbows of hope planted along with the arugula.
"If you bungle raising your children I don't think whatever else you do matters very much." -- Jackie Kennedy.
Dedicated to all our children who did not live long enough to find their rainbow.
Understanding Israel lives in Seattle. She was a member of the Love Family for 26 years, joining as the 15th woman in 1972 after a disastrous marriage to W. P. Rockefeller* of Bainbridge Island. She helped to rear 168 children in the Love Family after losing two daughters to Mr. Rockefeller. She later bore two sons in the Love Family. She received a MAED at age 65 from First People's Program Antioch College. Her incomplete doctoral dissertation focused on the Love Family children as adults. In 1985 she received the Southern California Motion Picture Council Humanitarian Award. (*Understanding Israel MAED was erased from former husband W. P. Rockefeller’s life so she included him too in this story.)