First in a series.
Rachel Israel was taken by her mother to live in the Love Israel commune outside of Arlington in the 1970s when she was almost 7 years old. She lived there for eight years. She has written her memoirs called, “Counterculture Crossover: Growing up in the Love Family.” The following is a Question and Answer article with the author.
Why do you want to go by Rachel?
I want to use my community name to protect my privacy, which is hard to do these days. I was just a kid there, so I didn’t choose to join the Love Family, but since I disclose so much personal information, that is controversial in many ways, it could be harmful to my career. Not only that, but when the Love Family broke up, I actually kept my community name for years. So authoring the book in that name is consistent with the time period I discuss in the book.
What was your life like before that, and how did it change?
My mom had dropped out of society, and we were living in the hippie counterculture. There were a lot of adventures that took place before we moved to Alaska, but just before we met the Love Family, we lived in the Alaskan wilderness, in a tepee with just my mom, my brother and my stepdad. It was a simple, quiet life. My room was a loft built up near where the poles protrude out the top. My parents worked at the cannery and on fishing boats. My step dad would hunt with our German Shepherd. My mom taught herself how to tan hides. She ground her own flour to make bread or custard pie in the little stove that was in the tepee. Then, my mom met the Love Family. They had a homestead in Homer at the head of the bay. She left my stepdad and moved to the Love Family’s home base in Seattle on Queen Anne. My life changed drastically. I now lived communally with hundreds of people who were considered like family. My mom was no longer in charge. I was taken care of by designated caretakers. I was homeschooled with my communal brothers and sisters, and my teachers were family outside of school. In my book, I talk in detail about my schooling. I also share a lot of memories about what it was like being communally raised. It was a lot to get used to and nothing like what I had known life to be before we joined.
How old were you when you joined the commune?
I was almost 7. I lived there for eight years. I left during the mid-1980’s breakup, so was almost 15 when I left and was entered into public high school in the outside society.
Why did your mom join in the first place?
My mom was looking for a commune, that was a popular hippie ideal, and she was sick of society and was looking to drop out. The way to change society, she told me, was to “not be a part of it.”
What was life like in the commune, good and bad?
Good: It was a huge family and because it was communal, everyone was really close. There was a lot of adventures, my activities in the Love Family drama group, caravanning across the country to rainbow gatherings. Bad: I was growing up in a society where my own mother wasn’t an authority over me. One man, Love, was in total control and made all the decisions about how I was raised from where I lived, to what I ate, to who took care of me, and his authority was so great that there was no balance of power. There was no feedback loop where membership could voice complaints and be heard so that problems could be solved. It was patriarchal, so I was raised in a society where, according to doctrine, men were in charge. Love’s vision for the community reflected that. Women were subservient, and their roles were limited.
What were some of the hardest things you went through while you were a part of that?
Being in a family where women were not equal and didn’t have a voice in the leadership and in major decisions. I discuss in detail the nature of sexual relationships in the community because I had to witness my own mother’s involvement in a polygamous relationship. I discuss in my book, in excruciating detail, what I experienced when my mother was sanctioned into one such relationship. Part of the Love Family’s sordid history, that is rarely discussed publicly, is the polygamy and the Love’s Family’s version of group marriage. What was also hard was what I lost by being there, which was a close relationship with my mother. Being raised communally meant that I wasn’t close to one parent. I had a lot of parents, but when I got attention, it was part of a group, not a lot of individual attention. So when the community broke up, I was a teenager, living with my mom. She hadn’t raised me, Love had. It had a devastating impact on our relationship. Culture shock when I went to live in the outside world. The adjustment was traumatic. Growing up in the Love Family didn’t prepare me for life on the outside.
Why did you leave the commune?
The Love Family broke up. A petition had been signed by the elders and 90 percent of the membership left. My mom left with that wave. Of course, the Love Family never actually broke up. What it really was, was a mass exodus. Then once that took place, it changed drastically in order to survive the shift.
How old are you and what’s your life like now?
I am almost 50, I work in the psychology field, helping people. I live in the country, raising two daughters. We have animals.
Why did you decide to write a book?
I always wanted to tell my story. I knew that story was important. As a child, I had read the Diary of Anne Frank, and it had a big impact on me. I received, as a gift, a diary, around that
I don’t think people have any idea what was really going on in that group. It was a very isolated group, and there wasn’t a lot of interacting with the outside world. I talk in my book about controversial things that were never mentioned in the papers or articles written over the years. I see value in telling the truth of what I saw and experienced there. It has helped me heal to talk about what happened to me there, what it was like, for me, growing up in that world. One of the things that I was taught in the Love Family was that the past wasn’t important. So in the Love Family people didn’t talk about the past, and there was this focus in everyday life on the present. And there’s value in that but I have also learned that history is important because lessons can be learned that guide us into the future.
•For more on the book go to rachelisrael.net
Next week: A look at the book.