The Love Israel Family

Urban Commune, Rural Commune

Charles Pierce LeWarne

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: History / Western History; Pacific Northwest / History
  • Bibliographic information: 312 pp., 30 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Contents

Winner of the Malstrom Award of the League of Snohomish County Historical Organizations

In 1968, a time of turbulence and countercultural movements, a one-time television salesman named Paul Erdmann changed his name to Love Israel and started a controversial religious commune in Seattle's middle-class Queen Anne Hill neighborhood. He quickly gathered a following and they too adopted the Israel surname, along with biblical or virtuous first names such as Honesty, Courage, and Strength. The burgeoning Love Israel Family lived a communal lifestyle centered on meditation and the philosophy that all persons were one and life was eternal. They flourished for more than a decade, owning houses and operating businesses on the Hill, although rumors of drug use, control of members, and unconventional sexual arrangements dogged them.

By 1984, perceptions among many followers that some Family members - especially Love Israel himself - had become more equal than others led to a bitter breakup in which two-thirds of the members defected. The remaining faithful, about a hundred strong, resettled on a ranch the Family retained near the town of Arlington, Washington, north of Seattle. There they recouped and adapted, with apparent social and economic success, for two more decades.

In The Love Israel Family, Charles LeWarne tells the compelling story of this group of idealistic seekers whose quest for a communal life grounded in love, service, and obedience to a charismatic leader foundered when that leader's power distanced him from his followers. LeWarne followed the Family for years, attending its celebrations and interviewing the faithful and the disaffected alike. He tells the Family's story with both sympathy and balance, describing daily life in the urban and later the rural communes and explaining the Family's deeply felt spiritual beliefs. The Love Israel Family is an important chapter in the history of communal experiments in the United States.
Charles P. LeWarne is the author of Utopias on Puget Sound, 1885-1915 and Washington State, a text used in many regional school districts. He is coauthor of Washington: A Centennial History.
Author's Note

1 The Communal Thread in the United States
2 Paul Erdmann Becomes Love Israel

3 Living Together
4 The Spiritual Focus
5 A Community in the Greater Community
6 Foes and Friends in the World Beyond
7 Stretching Outward

8 Flies in the Ointment
9 Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
10 Picking Up the Pieces

11 Entrepreneurial Ventures
12 The People and Their Lives
13 Unraveling toward Bankruptcy

Afterword by Serious Israel

References Cited
Index of Names
General Index

"Well worth reading for anyone interested in the growth and development of intentional communities, especially since such an organized and/or archived set of interviews for any intentional communities of the 1960s is so rare. I highly recommend this book . . ."
-Ammi Kohn, Oral History Review, Fall 2011

"This book's intimate and detailed portrayal of the Love Israel Family, spanning forty years of their history, is a testament to the time and commitment that Charles P. LeWarne spent getting to know and gaining the trust of the family members. . . . This compelling story reads like fiction."
-Western Historical Review

"How a culture of compliance can develop is a profound question, one of many demanding to be addressed here. LeWarne does a great service to the preservation of local history and to the broader study of people and power by capturing what he did of this remarkable and many-layered story."
-Pacific Northwest Quarterly

"LeWarne brings elements of awareness and sympathy to this group of counter-cultural figures and helps readers put Love Israel into context as a fixture in the emerging new Seattle social and political society."
-Oregon Historical Quarterly

"The Love Israel Family is very good reading and may be LeWarne's best work to date."

"Well documented and readable, an intimate look at an intentional family of more than 35 years."
-Seattle Times

"LeWarne's sensitive and balanced investigation into the family's trials, tribulations and daily lives is a must-read for anyone interested in American religious history."
-Everett Public Library