By Julie Muhlstein
September 27, 2009
In 1968, the year after the Summer of Love, Paul Erdmann and a
girlfriend moved into a rented house on Seattle's Queen Anne Hill.
They put up a sign: "All those who want to believe in Jesus Christ
So began the Love Israel Family. In the 1980s, the counterculture
religious group left the city. Members migrated to Arlington, where
land they'd been using for retreats became their ranch home. Living
in yurts and other dwellings, members shared work and family duties.
They raised vegetables and children. In time, their numbers grew to
more than 300.
They adopted the last name Israel, as Erdmann had, and took first
names based on various virtues, among them Confidence, Compassion and Serious.
By the 1990s, the group was hosting thousands of visitors at its
annual Garlic Festival, a party with homegrown food, music and the
hippie vibe of a 1960s event. The Israel family ran the Bistro, an
Arlington restaurant. Children with the last name Israel grew up to
play on Arlington schools' sports teams and attend senior proms.
Charles P. LeWarne was an observer and visitor, but never part of the
family. While the group was getting its start on Queen Anne, he was a
Meadowdale High School history teacher working on a doctoral degree
at the University of Washington. His dissertation became a book,
"Utopias on Puget Sound, 1885-1915." LeWarne also is author of
"Washington State," a history textbook.
"I was pretty conventional and still am," said LeWarne, now 79.
With an expertise in early American communes, the Edmonds author
turned his full attention to the group close to home. LeWarne's new
book, "The Love Israel Family: Urban Commune, Rural Commune," has
just been published by the University of Washington Press.
"I was trying to write an objective history," he said last week.
"They have been sensationalized. I did not want to do that, and did
not want it to be fawning how wonderful they were. A historian
tries to show all sides."
He is pleased the publisher agreed to include an afterword, "The Love
Family in Perspective," by Serious Israel, for years one of the
group's key leaders. "He is obviously a very intelligent, thoughtful
man, and very eloquent in his writing," LeWarne said.
Serious Israel now lives in northeast Washington, in an area called
China Bend, LeWarne said. It's along the Columbia River near
Northport. Many former members live there, and the family maintains
property in the area.
Love Israel, the group's charismatic leader, now lives in Bothell,
where the group renovated two homes. LeWarne visited Bothell last
October for a 40th anniversary celebration of the group's founding.
What he saw there was that despite bitter disputes and departures in
the 1980s, and despite the loss of the Arlington ranch after the Love
Israel Family filed for bankruptcy in 2003, the family, former
members and their children are a close-knit bunch.
"They get together," LeWarne said. "The young adults and their
children were at this party, and there were little kids running
around. It's an extended family."
Active in the scholarly Communal Studies Association, LeWarne sees in
the Israel family similarities to other groups, yet one aspect makes
"Folks talk about the Shakers, the Oneida Community and New Harmony
in the East and Midwest," he said. The book "is a recognition that we
in the Pacific Northwest have a rich history as well."
He is intrigued that the Israel family was able to make the
transition, after 15 years in Seattle, from an urban commune to
country life. History has few other examples of that, he said.
At a reading last week at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park,
LeWarne ended his talk by sharing three tenets the group uses as
words to live by. In his afterword, Serious Israel used the same
ending: "We are one. Love is the answer. Now is the time."
It was never perfect. LeWarne wrote about the group's financial and
fairness issues, sometimes meager food rations and disputes with neighbors.
Still, he is impressed by the social experiment's longevity, and the
lack of lasting rancor after so many years and changes.
"Even people who left in the very bitter break in the mid-1980s,
people I talked to said that nevertheless it was a formative,
influential part of my life. It helped to shape who I am," the author said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.