Monday, January 20, 2014

December 30, 2010, KomoMews, Cult or commune, the Love Israel Family persists 43 years later, by Michael Harthorne,

Cult or commune, the Love Israel Family persists 43 years later
December 30, 2010, KomoMews, Cult or commune, the Love Israel Family persists 43 years later, by Michael Harthorne,

Love Israel Family, Washington's longest-running commune (or cult, depending on who you ask), has seen a lot in its 42 years of existence, from a nearly 400-member high in Queen Anne to bankruptcy and a failed utopia in Arlington. But as 2011 approaches, its founder and leader, Love Israel, says he recognizes the mistakes of the past and sees a bright future for the family.

"The Love Family was...a people who love," Israel said. "It was a big, wide-ranging net. That's what it was supposed to be, and then it got a little too tight. Now it's back to where it was supposed to be in the first place."

Paul Erdman formed the Church of Armageddon in 1968, reinventing himself as Love Israel. The Love Israel Family would reach its zenith with nearly 400 members and more than a dozen Queen Anne homes between then and 1983.

Members gave up their personal property to the group and followed Israel's three main teachings: We are all one, love is the answer, and now is the time. Israel described it as an experiment in trying to get out of the world.

Queen Anne resident Sherri Milene, owner of 13 Boston, said she remembers the Love Israel Family as helpful and polite, picking up trash and tidying the neighborhood. Mary Chapman, director of marketing for the Greater Queen Anne Chamber of Commerce, grew up in the neighborhood in the 70s and 80s and remembers the group's children playing at Rodgers Park and hearing their idealistic names of Hope Israel, Charity Israel and Faith Israel.

Israel said the family had moments of complete belief together, getting a taste of what the group could be, during its time in Queen Anne. It felt close to each other and close to the neighborhood, he said.

"We helped build Queen Anne hill," he said. "We stopped the high rises. We put trees in. We rebuilt the parks. I think we did a lot for Queen Anne hill."

Then came the financial and familial strains. The Love Israel Family overextended itself with the purchase of property and expensive investments, such as a WWII minesweeper turned fishing boat. Family members rebelled against the authoritarian leadership of Israel and claimed he was enriching himself to the detriment of other family members.

Rumors of sex and drugs, polygamy and brainwashing swirled around Queen Anne. A former member of the Love Israel Family created a documentary called "It Takes a Cult" and numerous articles referring to the Love Israel Family as a cult pop up on the website for the Rick Ross Institute, a New Jersey-based nonprofit devoted to the study of cults.

The Love Israel Family fractured in 1984. Those that remained with Israel followed him to a 300-acre ranch in Arlington, where the family hosted an annual garlic festival, ran a number of businesses and attempted to build a communal village. Bankruptcy ended that dream in 2004, and the family, which Israel now numbers at 100 to 150, is split between Bothell and a large property in northeastern Washington.

Israel said the group was too dependent in its early years. This new independence, without the sharing of property and finances, has been good for the family, he said.

"It's growing in the way I hoped it would, with households being independent but still having the same beliefs," he said. "It makes it easier for us to put together something we can all share in, like the place in eastern Washington. We're trying to make that a place where everyone can own a little piece of it."

Israel said he credits the message of the Love Israel Family for its perseverance through more than four decades.

"What we started out with we really believed in passionately," he said. "A lot of us are visionaries. We actually saw things that are obvious but nobody sees them, which is the fact that we are all one, and love is the answer, and now is really the only time there is."

Israel said those tenets – the original philosophy of the Love Israel Family – are not only still relevant in 2011 but are being talked about more and more.

"There's so much negativity going on in the world right now," he said. "I think people are looking to sidle up with people of a like mind. A lot of people are connecting with me and us. It seems like it's growing in a psychological way, in a real way in people's minds."

Israel said his main philosophy, to be nice to each other and treat each other like family, hasn't changed in the past 40 years.

"Somebody stopped me the other day," he said. "'Love,' he says, 'How is your philosophy now compared to what it was?' I said, 'Well, I think it's exactly the same. I don't know anything I've changed at all. But, I think the philosophy is catching on because it's not really personal, it's something that's been written in everybody's heart and mind. They just don't see it."

Israel is optimistic about the future of the group, which still has large gatherings and meetings once or twice a year. He said they are planning on building a village in northeastern Washington and a second village "down south," either in Arizona or Mexico.

Israel is also currently shopping around a potential book – encouraged by his children – to tell his side of the story. He said he wants people to know how he started, what he was trying to accomplish and how far the Love Israel Family came to that.

The main thing Israel wants people to understand is that they are all a family; people need to take that seriously and not worry about every nickel and dime every minute, he said.

Until then, Love Israel will keep spreading the message he started in 1968.

"We were trying to figure out how we could escape the world and not have to live under the pressures of the world," he said. "We didn't quite succeed. We were a little too young at the time. But, we're still working on it."

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