Love Israel, charismatic communal leader who in 1968 founded the Love Israel Family on Queen Anne Hill that grew to some 350 members, died Feb. 1 of prostate cancer.
Love Israel, the charismatic communal leader who in 1968 founded the Love Israel Family on Queen Anne Hill that grew to some 350 members, died Feb. 1 of prostate cancer.
He was 75.
For three decades the commune managed to last through various legal and financial troubles as it moved from Seattle to a 300-acre ranch near Arlington, where Israel later opened a restaurant and coached youth sports.
Facing bankruptcy in 2003, the group sold the ranch and the group effectively disbanded. By then the family was down to eight to 10 households comprising perhaps 50 or 60 people, said Serious Israel, one of the original elders of the commune. There are still members affiliated with an organic winery in Kettle Falls in Eastern Washington.
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Love Israel was born Paul Erdmann. In a 2004 Seattle Times story, he told of investing some family money into a small chain of Seattle and Tacoma television stores.
Then, around 1965, he said, he noticed “this hippie thing, this love thing.”
He said he threw a big party, gave away everything he owned and headed to San Francisco with $50.
It was at a Haight-Ashbury apartment that he dropped acid with Brian Allen, he told The Times in 2004, the son of Steve Allen, the TV personality who had been the first host of “The Tonight Show.”
Erdmann claimed he saw Jesus in Brian Allen’s eyes: “I saw love, I saw forgiveness. I saw a million symbols, all in a second.” (Allen spent about a decade with the family, then quit and now is in real estate.)
Honesty Israel was married to Love Israel for 48 years. They have 12 children and 20 grandchildren. Everyone in the group had the last name “Israel” after being instructed by Love.
Honesty says she understands how her husband saw Jesus when looking at Allen.
“It’s hard not to see Jesus in people with beards and long hair,” she says.
In a story by KING-TV just before Israel’s death, Honesty said about her husband, “He taught us love is the answer. We’re all one family. He tried to tell the whole Earth we’re all one.”
In that story, Love Israel’s son, Justice, told of growing up in the family.
“Every girlfriend you had, the parents were like, ‘You’re dating the son of a cult leader!’” Justice told KING. “It was fear of the unknown when we were growing up. They didn’t know what to make of it. Now people think it’s cool.”
They say they’re stronger than ever. And despite the loss of their patriarch, Justice says their love will never die.
“This gift, this truth that he gave to us, that’s not going away.”
In his 2009 book, “The Love Israel Family,” local historian Charles LeWarne (with the cooperation of Love Israel), writes that Love Israel attracted followers at the time of the Vietnam War protests.
“A lot of people were lost in one way or another,” he says, and the family offered answers.
What Love Israel offered “was extremely patriarchal,” says LeWarne.
At the beginning, he writes, “… the family practiced a form of group marriage, but Love was the only ‘husband.’ All the women were Love’s wives; he could control followers by ‘loaning’ a wife to an elder or taking one from him, sometimes as if in threat. The leader reserved for himself ‘the privilege of being close to more than one woman.’ Other men, even other elders, had only one partner.”
Once the family’s rituals went catastrophic.
A Jan. 24, 1972, Seattle Times story tells of two family members found dead after ritual breathing of toluene fumes from a plastic bag.
It appeared that an out-of-court settlement in January 1984 might be the end of the Love Israel Family. Daniel Gruener, an heir to the DuPont Co. fortunes who had gone under the name Richness Israel, wanted some $1.3 million in restitution for money he had given the family.
In negotiations, Gruener got all the family’s Seattle properties, which at one point included a dozen-and-a-half Queen Anne houses.
By then, LeWarne writes in his book, some family members also had become concerned about Love Israel’s reported ostentatious lifestyle — “VISA card, American Express, lunches out, fine cigars” — while others scrounged.
At the Arlington ranch, Love Israel had in many ways become part of the local community.
A 1997 Seattle Times story told how he had become a commissioner in a local sewer district, and had dreams of a development with 100 homes.
He was also involved in the daily operation of an upscale bistro in downtown Arlington that the family had started.
Love Israel also coached youth sports teams and a son, Clean Israel, was a star tight end on the Arlington High School team and went on to play for the University of Washington.
“Who would have thought?” Love Israel said back then.
The family got to keep the Arlington ranch, until the prospect of bankruptcy in 2003 ended that.
In recent years, Love Israel lived in a Bothell home, where he died surrounded by family, says his wife.
There were services Feb. 20 at a Seattle church that Honesty Israel estimates were attended by some 400 people, although there was no media coverage.
She now keeps her husband’s ashes in an urn at home. There is no more Love Israel family land where he could have been memorialized.