BOTHELL — Love Israel was a patriarch and spiritual leader. From the religious community he founded in 1968 on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill, he brought his counterculture commune to Snohomish County in the 1980s. In its heyday, the Love Israel Family Ranch near Arlington was home to more than 100 followers.
Born Paul Erdmann, Love Israel died Feb. 1 at his home in Bothell. He was 75.
“He was surrounded by people he loved and who loved him,” said Serious Israel, a follower from the community’s early days. Love Israel had suffered from cancer, Serious said.
“The last few weeks here, it was a really beautiful scene with a lot of people coming to see him,” Serious Israel said.
Love Israel is survived by his wife, Honesty Israel, and by his children: Kevin Clayton, Kim Metaxa, Life Israel, Compassion Israel, Clean Israel, Perfection Israel, More Israel, Bernadette Israel Carter, Luke Israel, Lovely Laban, Justice Israel, and many grandchildren. He also is survived by his brother, Steve Erdmann, and sisters Mary Shipp and Ellen “Dee Dee” Girt, all of Oregon. He was preceded in death by his brother, Peter Erdmann. His daughter Tiffany Fackrell died after his death.
“His whole message was always about positivity,” said Lovely Israel Laban. She lived at the ranch until her mother left when she was 4. She attended Arlington High School and now runs a cosmetic dermatology company in Oregon and California.
“His message about love and forgiveness was very powerful,” she added.
Girt said hundreds of people attended her brother’s funeral Feb. 20 at Seattle Unity Church. “Love was a gentleman,” said Shipp, his other sister.
Their brother was born in Germany but the family moved here when they were children, Shipp said. “He grew up in Seattle,” she said. Girt said their father was Roman Catholic, but after their parents divorced religion didn’t play a big role in their lives.
It wasn’t until adulthood that Erdmann, once a TV salesman who also worked in mortgage banking, “had a life change, his belief system changed,” Shipp said.
He changed his name, too, and at a house on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill he founded the Church of Jesus Christ at Armageddon.
“He had a vision. He saw that we were all one,” said Confidence Israel, another longtime member now living near in Eastern Washington’s Stevens County.
Confidence Israel joined the commune about a year after its start. “There was a strong belief in Christianity,” he said, and followers have three key principles: “Love is the answer, now is the time, and we are all one.”
Members took the surname Israel “right out of the Bible,” Confidence said. Serious Israel said first names were discerned by Love Israel and others who witnessed individual virtues. That tradition continued for the next generation.
The Love Israel Family has existed for decades, but its history has been troubled by divisions, financial difficulties and land use regulations. In the early days, some parents even hired “deprogrammers” to remove their children from what they saw as a cult, Serious Israel said.
In 1984, the Seattle property was lost in a settlement with a former follower, Daniel Gruener.
The group battled Snohomish County in the 1990s over its yurts and other structures, many built without permits. And in 2004, a year after the Israel family filed for bankruptcy, the 300-acre ranch near Arlington was sold for $4.2 million to the Union for Reform Judaism. The Jewish denomination today runs Camp Kalsman on the bucolic site.
About 30 people associated with the Love Israel Family live in northeast Washington, where the group runs China Bend Winery.
While in the Arlington area, the Love Israel Family became a vibrant part of the community. For more than a dozen years it hosted a summer Garlic Festival, with food and live music. The Israel Family owned The Bistro, a fine-dining restaurant in Arlington, and had a construction business. Israel Family children played sports for Arlington schools.
By 2005, the Love Family had two homes in Bothell. Today, Serious Israel said, many members of the next generation live in that area.
“While we were all young, it lasted quite a good while,” Confidence Israel said. When members began having children, differences in values arose. “The winds of change blew us in different directions, like a dandelion getting blown and all the seeds flying,” he said. “Love tried to keep it all together. Overall, he was a good man, a compassionate man. But in some ways, he was blind to a lot of things.”
Serious Israel said that while members took the name Israel, they also heeded a kind of anagram: “Love Is Real.”
“We patched together our own culture,” he said.
At one point, the group had places in Seattle, Arlington, Eastern Washington, Alaska and Hawaii. “We don’t really have a communal land base anymore,” Serious Israel said. Rather than a church or a cult, he sees the Love Israel Family as “a small tribe.”
“We have our family tree and our relationships to one another,” he said. “Our kids grew up with a lot of aunts and uncles.”
On Sunday, they held a big Easter gathering.
“The sun came out and we felt very blessed to see all our young families,” Serious Israel said. “Our children don’t all share the same religious beliefs their elders had, but the principles are still the glue.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-0339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been corrected since it was first posted to state that Love Israel’s daughter Tiffany Fackrell died after his death.