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Originally published Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 12:05 AM

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Book review

"The Love Israel Family:" a new history of Seattle's Love Israel commune

Author/historian Charles P. LeWarne has produced a new history of the Love Israel family, a controversial utopian commune with its roots in Seattle. Le Warne will discuss his book this month at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, and Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Charles P. LeWarne

The author of "The Love Israel Family" will discuss his book at 7 p.m. Sept. 21 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. Free (206-366-3333; thirdplacebooks.com). He will appear at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co. Free (206-624-6600; elliottbaybook.com).

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"The Love Israel Family: Urban Commune, Rural Commune"

by Charles P. LeWarne

University of Washington Press, 312 pp., $24.95

When an author writes a book with the "cooperation" of its subjects, it's fair game for a skeptical approach by a reporter-reviewer, particularly this one, whose articles are cited in the book's footnotes.

Cooperation brings access and information, but it can also breed sympathy and indebtedness. In turn, that can lead to a less-than-honest look at the "warts," as Charles P. LeWarne refers to the dark chapters in the history of the Love Family, a long-lasting, locally based commune that included as many as 350 members before it blew apart.

I turned first to a chapter entitled "Breaking up is hard to do" in "The Love Israel Family" to see if he had skimped on the goods. They were there: the cocaine, the sex, the sexism, the power-that-corrupts. Even so, LeWarne, a historian of utopian and communal societies, isn't judgmental; he likes his subjects, those "extremely pleasant and enjoyable people."

In 1968 on Queen Anne Hill, the Love Family gathered around the spiritual revelations and considerable charisma of Paul Erdmann, a 28-year-old, German-born former television salesman fresh from the Summer of Love in San Francisco.

After a golden-cloud and "translucent-stone" vision on a bus ride through Texas, the intense, intuitive Erdmann renamed and remade himself as Love Israel, the latter name meaning "children of God," as well as a play on "love is real."

The psychedelic-inspired revelations of transcendent love reported by Love and other family members may seem fake, even trite in today's consuming, me-first culture. LeWarne attempts to give context: a time of great inspiration (JFK, affluence, civil rights) followed by great disillusionment (Vietnam, Nixon, assassinations, worldwide upheavals).

His text, while sometimes chronologically confusing, is well documented and readable, an intimate look at an intentional family of more than 35 years.

Left for the reader to decide is whether Love Israel was — is — a charming, gifted con man or a genuine seeker — even a prophet. Serious Israel, an educated, articulate follower who became Love's spokesman and often apologist, compares him to Moses and Joseph Smith. On the con-man side: Convincing others that he had received the nod directly from God got Love lots of goodies: a luxurious home, fine clothes, good drugs and rights to bed the family's women.

Those who found Love's visions of faith and family compelling included entertainer Steve Allen's son, Brian, who became Logic Israel and one of the group's "elders." Like many other commune members, he was sincerely searching for community, for connection, for true spirituality. Logic, quoted from his father's book, "Beloved Son: A Story of the Jesus Cults," tells about how he saw himself and Jesus Christ in Love's face; Love had the same experience, he added. "We did this several times, until it was totally clear that God is love, that we are One, that Jesus Christ is real, that the real part of me and you is loving, forgiving... "

But in the mid-1980s, when the family's children were going without shoes and books as Love lived a high life, Logic helped lead a rebellion and the family fractured. Richness Israel, whose holdings had helped fund the family, demanded his money back, and Love lost the Queen Anne compound amid nasty legal battles. Love and a small group fled to Arlington where they built a rural paradise, opened a restaurant and hatched grander plans. Mired in debt, that effort failed, too, and in 2004 family members scattered, but for a small constellation around the still-charismatic Love.

"In his late sixties at the time I write, Love Israel remains tall, handsome, athletic in appearance, casually but well dressed, intelligent and articulate," LeWarne tells us. "As he talks, you sense that you and only you are important to him at that moment, that you have his full attention, and that he truly cares about you and what you say. ."

Serious Israel, in a heartfelt afterward to the book, reminds readers that "just because God chooses a man to be a leader among men, this does not make him more perfect in all his ways." Looking forward, he maintains that "the essence" of the family's culture has not been lost. The final chapter in the family's history, it seems, has yet to be written.

Carol M. Ostrom, a writer for Pacific Northwest magazine, covered the Love Israel story for The Seattle Times in the mid-1980s.

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