The sisterhood of the Love Israel Family was subject to its own internal hierarchical order. As a woman, if you were in favor with the leader you were given more food and clothing, perhaps your children would be favored as well and benefit. The women would often vie for this favoritism. My grandmother once bought a beautiful down jacket for my mother during the cold winter months; the leader saw the jacket and asked my mother to relinquish it to the good of the community. He then gave it to one of his favorite women.
My grandmother, seeing my mother still in need, bought her another attractive warm jacket --again the leader demanded my mother hand it over. My grandmother, a very clever woman, then went to a second hand store, bought my mother a very ugly but warm jacket -- this one my mother was allowed to keep.
Women were often subject to strict scrutiny and dictatorship over their bodies. If those in power judged a woman as unattractive she became the focus of fierce discrimination. If a woman was thought to be gaining weight by a man it was strongly suggested she partake in two weeks of fasting. My mother recalls an instance, while washing dishes with a friend, where an elder man thoroughly inspect them for protruding bellies or any other signs of weight gain. There is a picture of my mother holding my younger brother, whom she had recently given birth to, she is wearing a low cut top and you can see every rib in her chest. Oh the stories these women tell -- makes my internal angry feminist shriek with rage.
The hippie movement that promoted freedom of sexual expression and liberal drug use played an important role in the Love Israel Family. The adults smoked marijuana and hashish regularly. Psychotropic drugs such as Psilocybin mushrooms and LSD were often used to expand ones consciousness and gain spiritual insight. Alcohol was consumed in the form of wine on the holy day -- Saturday to Sunday evening. Cocaine was mainly an exclusive indulgence reserved for the elder men. Once, the household my mother was living in all took what they thought were psilocybin mushrooms. She woke up two days later having gone into raving delirium and defecating herself. They discovered later that what they actually took was the poisonous mushroom amanita pantherina.
A couple months before we left the Love Israel Family my father and one of his friends decided to stop taking drugs as an experiment. They pretended to inhale as the peace pipe was passed around and did not partake in the cocaine use. After a week they met in secret to discuss their sober observations and both agreed that what they observed was complete insanity.
The Love Israel Family did not believe in medical intervention. They held fast to the idea that faith and true devotion would overcome any ills. The wearing of corrective lenses for vision was not permitted. For my mother and father, who are both quite nearsighted, this presented challenges and my mother was often ridiculed for being clumsy and awkward. After years of hazy vision my mother and father secretly snuck away and were fitted for contact lenses. Suddenly my mother was no longer clumsy and awkward. The leader noticed my mother's new found grace; perhaps this change was attributed to her commitment to faith and dutiful subservience.
A couple of months after I was born a woman gave birth to a baby boy. At birth, the infant presented in breech position. Because of the naiveté of the midwife and opposition to medical interventions the baby died. The next day my mother and father were set to the task of cleaning and dressing this perfect little baby boy for burial as I slept -- rosy cheeked, chubby and healthy next door.
My mother tells of several children, all infants who died in the Love Israel Family -- all from SIDS or accidental causes. There was one sweet baby girl who smothered under her heavy down blanket during winter. Since most of these infants were not registered and given birth certificates their births and deaths are not documented. These sweet little gentle souls came and went, here for such a short stay; forever touching the lives of those who loved them. Birth, life and death -- an entire lifetime in the blink of an eye. Perfection. Completion.
My grandmother, my mother, my older brother and sister, and me as a newborn.