There has been a lot written about the Love Israel Family commune, which had its start on Queen Anne Hill in 1968. Rachel Israel was a child when her mother brought her into the hippie community, and she says those writings barely scratch the surface.

“I have a lot of mixed feelings about Love Israel,” she said, “just like I have a lot of mixed feelings about the whole thing.”

After years of writing down her experiences during her time in the commune — which eventually collapsed due to a series of lawsuits and a mass exodus of members, disenchanted by its founder — and the shock of having to adapt again to the outside world, Rachel Israel has self-published her memoir, “Counterculture Crossover: Growing Up in the Love Family.”

Everyone who joined the commune adopted the last name Israel after founder Love Israel, whose real name was Paul Erdmann, and that’s the pen name Rachel Israel used to tell her story. It wasn’t so much a therapeutic act, but a way of explaining her childhood experience.

“As time goes on, they don’t remember the ’60s, and they don’t have those memories,” she said. “I wanted it to be understood what happened to me.”

Rachel Israel’s mother subscribed to the counterculture movement of the time, and that meant a lot of adventures.

Their family had a home in Homer, Alaska, and her mother met Love Israel at a bar there, Rachel Israel said.

“My mom was a hippie, so we actually had a friend who joined the group,” she said, “and she was missing. Well, she wasn’t missing, but we didn’t know where she was.”

Her mother went to Seattle, where Love Israel had formed his commune in a bungalow on Queen Anne Hill, eventually adding more than a dozen homes.  

“When she got there she must have been really taken with it,” Rachel Israel said, because she came back for her and her brother, and brought them to live as part of the Love Israel Family. “And that was the rest of my life for most of my childhood. We had visited other communes before we came.”

Historian Charles P. LeWarne wrote a number of articles about the commune over the years, and Rachel Israel recommends people seek those out.

“Amongst sparse furnishings, the group read the bible, silently meditated, and smoked marijuana until one day Erdmann announced that he had become Love Israel and instructed his followers to change their names as well,” LeWarne wrote in a 2010 article about the Love Israel Family. “Their simple, somewhat New Age religious set of principles centered on the precepts that all people are one, that love is the answer, and that now is the time.”

Everyone who joined was a member of the family, and children like Rachel Israel, who was 7 at the time, were raised by designated caretakers. Her mother was no longer in charge, she said.

“I never had that much family in my life, because there were hundreds of members,” Rachel Israel said. “The Love Family was a commune but it was very structured and organized.”

The Love Family homes on Queen Anne Hill were close together, and people from the commune did go out from time to time, but family members tended to keep to themselves, Rachel Israel said.

“We didn’t interact a lot with outsiders, and we had certain streets that we walked. It was called ‘The Circuit,’” she said. If neighbors did approach them, they were directed to speak with key elders. “From what I could see, they pretty much kept to their selves and we kept to ours.”

Rachel Israel had attended public schools in Anchor Point, Alaska, and could read pretty well, she said. Books were not allowed at the commune. People could read the Bible, the family charter and approved National Geographic magazines.

“He didn’t want us to know about the outside world because he thought that would be a threat for us to know about the outside world,” she said of Love Israel. “I didn’t really know about the outside community very much at all because I only experienced it when I was a young kid.”

She was given a diary when she was 10 — Love Israel taught his followers that they were eternal, so nobody believed in ages — and began taking notes of her time there, and then adjusting to life after the Love Family fell apart. She kept writing notes on and off for more than 17 years, Rachel Israel said.

“I took breaks though. I had to go to college. I had children,” she said, but the notes and research picked up over the last four years. “I had reams of it; I have file cabinets of it.”

LeWarne wrote that “sexual experimentation seemed at different times to range from celibacy to polygamy and exchanging partners” within the Love Family.

Rachel Israel said Love decided who was allowed to be in a sexual relationship at the commune, and there could be “multiple relationships.”

“He decided who was with who, and I talk in a lot more detail about what I remember and what I actually saw,” she said about her book. Her mother was in such a relationship near the end of their time with the commune. “It was, in most ways, a pretty negative experience, and I talked about what happened in that situation, what I was exposed to in that situation.”

At its peak, the Love Family numbered around 350 members. Love Israel purchased a ranch near Arlington, where many ended up relocating in the mid-1970s. Rachel Israel was part of that migration.

“All the houses still remained on Queen Anne,” she said, “and people still lived there, but a lot of us migrated to the ranch.”

The family began fracturing in the 1980s.

The family was too spread out, there were mounting lawsuits, financial issues and a growing lack of faith in Love Israel’s leadership. Elders provided him with a petition demanding structural changes, particularly how the family funds were being used, Rachel Israel said, but Love Israel ripped it up. About two-thirds of the Love Family membership left in 1983.

The Love Israel Family forfeited all of its 15 houses in Seattle in an out-of-court settlement with Daniel Gruener, an heir to the DuPont Company, for the $1.3 million he said he had provided the family while he was a member.

Rachel Israel left the ranch the same time that most of the family did, she said, and ended up living with other former members back in Seattle, where she attended an alternative school. Her mother would later leave the family and come back for her.

“The biggest hard thing for me was the social piece, because the behaviors of kids that was expected on the outside was different from where I was raised,” she said. It was hard to adjust to just being a kid. “I didn’t know the things that other kids knew.”

Rachel Israel said she made it her life’s goal to live a normal life.

Love Israel/Paul Erdmann died in 2016 from prostate cancer. A network of former followers still exists online, and Rachel Israel said it was shocking, because Love Israel had taught the family that everyone was eternal.

“Counterculture Crossover: Growing Up in the Love Family” mixes in a lot of research Rachel Israel did years after leaving the family with her lived experiences. She said she tried to be respectful of those in her book and preserve the anonymity of many; she also sought a lot of legal advice.

“I was very worried about it, and I knew it was very controversial and I was telling a lot of the group’s secrets,” she said. “I don’t really know the full impact of my story because a lot of people haven’t read it yet.”

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