Episode 81: Linke Fligl Ends with Love

Hi everyone—it’s Nahanni Rous, here to kick off the fall season of Can We Talk? First, a word from our sponsor, KOL Foods, the kosher, grass-fed meat company. 100-percent woman owned! Whether it’s a turkey, a brisket, or your weekday chicken dinner, KOL Foods delivers the tastiest, healthiest kosher meat you can find. Order at kolfoods.com; that's K-O-L-Foods.com. Use the coupon code ‘canwetalk’ for a discount. Order your Thanksgiving Turkey now!

OK, on to the show!

[Theme music plays]

Nahanni: Welcome back to Can We Talk?, the podcast of the Jewish Women's Archive, where gender, history, and Jewish culture meet. In this season of new beginnings, we’re starting with a story about Jewish innovation. But this is also a story about endings, and how important they are.

[Theme music fades; crickets chirp]

Chana: Let's just, like, take a breath for a minute. Our bodies traveled here physically and in spirit, we can just like land a little bit and where we are. We're about to go into this Hallel service, which is about praise. And I think it's also a really sweet way that we can think about being in relationship with land. And throughout the service, you can just feel the ground. You can look around, you can open your ears to all the lushness that we have here at Linke Fligl on Schaghticoke land.

[People hum a melody]

Nahanni: It’s a hot, humid day in late August. I’m at the final gathering of Linke Fligl, a queer Jewish chicken farm in New York’s Hudson Valley. Linke Fligl is Yiddish for “left-wing,” a playful double meaning that shows not just the group’s politics, but their sense of fun.

[People sing]

Nahanni: Groups of people sing and sway, standing shoulder to shoulder under two shade clothes stretched between saplings. The outdoor prayer space feels like a chuppah, set in a clearing in an uncut field. The service has the joy and intimacy you’d hope for at a wedding.

About 100 people have traveled here from New York, neighboring states, even as far away as England. Linke Fligl is a couple hours north of Manhattan. Its ten acres are nestled in a valley between two low mountain ranges. Nobody actually lives at Linke Fligl. A core group lives nearby in Millerton and tends the farm.

For the past seven years, queer Jews—mostly in their 20s and early 30s—have come to Linke Fligl to build community, work on the farm, and dream. But today is different. Today they’ve come to say goodbye. Co-Director Chana Rusanov sets the tone for this final gathering.

Chana: We have been so grateful to build slow, intentional, sweet, emergent, prayerful, songful relationship with this land, and we're gonna keep doing that today. And we're also gonna have the gift of ending with intention, ending with love and with joy.

[People sing]

Nahanni: Linke Fligl closed at the end of the seventh year of the Jewish agricultural cycle. It’s known as the year of shmita—Hebrew for “release.” In Biblical times, it was a year when fields rested, the poor could harvest, and debts were forgiven. Linke Fligl's founders set out to live in sync with the rhythms of the Jewish calendar, so it seems fitting that this is the year they let their fields go.

In this episode of Can We Talk?, we’ll walk the land Linke Fligl tended for seven years, and we'll talk with founder Margot Seigle about the origins of the project and why it’s ending. But first, let’s hear from some of the people I met at Linke Fligl’s last gathering.

[Crowd sound, people milling around]

Dot: My name is Dot Rose. I use she and they pronouns. I'm from Philadelphia. This is a special place that I get to be where marginalized people are centered, which makes me extremely comfortable and makes me feel like I can do this fight and I can be joyful and I can be my full self and, um, not worry that I have to hide any part of me to be accepted.

Aviva: My name is Aviva. I'm from Berkeley, California, but I'm living in New York City right now. I was raised, like, observant, and I'm trans and I feel like it's hard to find spaces that are, like, conducive to ritual in a way that satisfies the parts of me that—cuz I really, like, I grew up really loving ritual. And  to be in a space that had so much ritual and was also, like, very trans and very queer was really, really incredible.

Ollie: My name is Ollie and I am one of the co-directors of Linke Fligl here in Millerton on Schaghticoke land. For me, the queerness comes from how we want to, like, shape community in a way that makes people feel like they matter, like they have a role, no matter what. For me, the queerness is, like, infused throughout—it's not just  like, oh, this project is for queer people. It's that this project is thinking through queerness about Judaism.

Megan: My name is Megan Madison. My pronouns are she and her and hers,and I'm a member of the cultural organizing team at Linke Fligl. This has been a place and a space where I feel like I've gotten more in touch with, like, the spiritual aspect of my queerness. Like the relational aspect of my queerness, like deepening queer friendships, and queering my relationship with God or the divine. And to not have to like, a wall between those different parts of my life. And now I know what that feels like to be integrated in that way. And so it almost is like, I can't really settle for anything else at this point, because now I've…now it's my baseline.

Nahanni: Jewish tradition, queer identity, and relationship to land are at the core of Linke Fligl. On a bench near the prayer structure, I find Molly. She was involved in visioning sessions in the early days of Linke Fligl. We talk about why relationship to land is such an important part of the project.

Molly: I’m Molly Bajgot and I use she and her pronouns and I live in Easthampton, Massachusetts. The goal was not to produce tons of food, but the goal was to be on land and use that as an opportunity to ask big questions about: How do Jews relate to land outside of Israel, when so much of the mainstream Jewish community is tied to turning towards, literally, the physical place that is Jerusalem? How do we connect to the land that we're on and talk about this diaspora place as being just as holy? And then, how do we relate to the land in a just way, knowing that we're not from here? How do we make this feel good for young adults and queer young adults and people who have felt disenfranchised from Judaism? And how do we retain tradition—like at the same time, how do we not throw it away?

Nahanni: It turns out there is a tradition of Jewish farming in the Hudson Valley. It dates as far back as the 1800s, when Jews were fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe. Most Jews weren’t oriented toward Palestine, and some saw communal farms in America as an alternative to crowded urban tenements. 

By the time Margot Seigle came to Jewish farming, it was a counter-cultural movement. In 2012, Margot participated in Adamah, a Jewish agricultural and social justice fellowship. They were in their 20s, and queerness, Jewish identity, land, and social change were on their mind. Margot had inherited some family money, and in that context, was grappling with America's history of slavery and colonialism. In the spirit of reparations, they decided to buy and gift a piece of land to Wildseed—a group of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) who wanted to start an intentional, ecological community.

At the same time, Margot and co-founder Adin Zuckerman were dreaming of a queer Jewish land project.  Through a series of conversations, Wildseed offered for them to farm a small piece of the land—and Linke Fligl was born. Here’s Margot.

Margot: We started as a chicken farm in 2016 with a vision of building queer Jewish community on land and being in the practice of coming into right relationship with land.

Nahanni: To Margot, “right relationship with land” has meant that Linke Fligl pays a voluntary land tax to the local Schaghticoke tribe. They also ask anyone who makes a donation to Linke Fligl to give a matching donation to a BIPOC land project. Over the past seven years, Linke Fligl has hosted dozens of gatherings.

Margot: And I think we've really seen that at Linke Fligl, the way that when queer people come together on land to pray and sing and cook together, the relationships that are built feel like there's a depth. The quality of connection that comes from being together on land and really, like, taking care of one another and…yeah, I feel like I’ve really seen that.

Nahanni: What was the vision behind getting queer Jews into farming? And also, why chickens in particular?

Margot: I think the vision was to figure out both how to sustain ourselves, and also, for myself at least, how to be in regular relationship to land—and that was part of why chickens. The chickens need to be let out every morning, and the door needs to be closed every evening. They need to be given water, they need to be given feed. And so, committing to having chickens and raising chickens was a commitment to being in daily relationship with this place.

Nahanni: After the Hallel service, people spread out on blankets for a potluck lunch. I make my way through the crowd to follow Megan and Ollie, who are going to show me some of Linke Fligl’s landmarks.

Ollie: Where should we start, Megan?

Megan: Let's start in the back and work our way forward.

Ollie: Amazing.

Megan: Should we start with Poop Mountain?

Ollie: Sure!

Megan: Okay.

Nahanni: Did you just say Poop Mountain?

Megan: [laughs] I did. Yes.

Nahanni: Awesome. [laughs]

Ollie: We wouldn't leave out some relics. We have to take you back in time.

Nahanni: “Back in time” means 2016, the early days before the outhouse was built.  Poop Mountain is a brambly thicket on a slope that provided privacy for an important and self-explanatory purpose.  Even today, the structures here are minimal; I see a toolshed, a sukkah frame, and a kitchen area. It has counters, a sink, and a metal roof, but no walls. There used to be a trampoline—a great ice-breaker for first-timers, says Megan.

Nahanni: But as Megan and Ollie show me around Linke Fligl, something occurs to me.  It’s a chicken farm—but I don’t see any chickens.

Nahanni: So, where are the chickens?

Megan: They're gone now. They were slaughtered or, um, found new homes.

Nahanni: Ollie tells me they eat the chickens sometimes on special occasions.

Ollie: All right. Should we head to the shul?

Megan: Let’s head to the shul!

Ollie: So this is the shul…

Nahanni: There’s not much to it, really. Just a few posts in the ground with sailcloth draped between them.

Megan: It has the most beautiful architecture of any shul I've ever been in [laughs]. Um, when you look up at the sky, like you can stand in the middle and look all the way around, three-sixty, and no matter what the weather or the season or the time of day, you're gonna see something beautiful. And in a very literal way, it helps me feel that the world…is a sanctuary, that the divine is in every living thing, all around me and all around us.

Nahanni: And speaking of prayer at Linke Fligl—I was struck by the way the Hallel service stuck entirely to the traditional liturgy, when so much of the ethos here is about making really fundamental change in society. I asked Margot about it.

Margot: I think part of Linke Fligl Judaism has really been about going deep in the tradition. And, you know, there's moments where we, like, take things out and have radical interpretations—where we, you know, for the Amidah, people go out and do a sit spot and practice being in relationship with that place over the course of their time. Um, and then there's times, like at the Hallel service, where we're really just diving into the ancient texts fully, um, as has been done for generations upon generations. And I think both are holy and both are sacred. And, um, I think especially for many folks in our community who grew up Orthodox, that's the way they wanna pray.

And I think, like, I've learned so much through getting to pray in that way, and to really, like, stick to actually what the tradition has. And being in the complexities of, like, we might not agree with every single thing that's said, but these are the words that have been said for generations. And how do we radically reinterpret those, the meanings, um, and be in the contradictions of the things that don't sit right?

[Indistinct conversation]

Megan: Maybe the next important thing is the bus. There's an actual blue bus parked here on the land in the main camp.

Nahanni: Should we walk up in there?

Megan: Sure! Yeah, let's walk up in.

Nahanni: We take our shoes off and climb up into a tricked out old school bus.  There’s a bed at the far end, a mini-library, and lots of art on the walls.

Ollie: There’s a lot here in this small space—we’ve got the gemach.

Nahanni: Can we describe the contents of this gemach? And just what a gemach is, is a, like…a communal supply store, right? So people can come and give things or take things. So…but I really love the variety in here.

Ollie: When it was full, I remember that there were some boxers, there were a few more binders. There was a lot of like, um, sheer material of different genders. There was, like a sports jersey with a rainbow collar that a lot of people I saw wearing. There were necklaces. A lot of, yeah, head scarfs.

Nahanni: There’s also a tallit—hanging right next to a negligee.

Ollie: It was really beautiful to see different people in different gendered clothing trying on ritual adornments that they had never had access to or didn't feel comfortable in or someone—

Megan: Or weren't ready to commit to. Like, it's also nice to have a space where you can come and just, like, try a thing on and be like, “How did that feel? Okay, let me take it off and try on another thing!”

Ollie: There, for a long time, was a stove, like a wood stove here, which was the way that we heat the bus in the winter. And because it was the most inside space, there were a lot of dreaming sessions on this bus.You know, they would, like, turn on the wood stove, make some food, make some tea, and stay up all night. This is like the dream-space, the home-space, cuz it's, like, the only place you can sleep and be warm here.

There's been massive dance parties with—packed on this bus. People grinding on the seatbelt.

Megan: Yes. I think there's also been…many make-outs have happened on this bus. And so there's also usually some books about, like, consent and pleasure and communication, just to make sure that everybody's having a good time. Yeah, there's a lot of magic on this bus.

[Crickets chirp]

Ollie: I feel like we almost forgot the garden. Should we do that next?

Megan: Oh yeah, garden….We can go in a little bit.

Ollie: Okay… yeah, let’s go in…

Megan: You can see it’s very overgrown now because it’s shmita year. Like you can see here, this is a bunch of overgrown sage. So this is, like, the sage corner.

Ollie: This is our herb garden. I think that’s chamomile and there’s some comfrey. These are just really overgrown herbs in this area. And then these other beds are usually, like, root vegetables, flowers…

Megan: Potatoes, kale, tomatoes, beans…

Ollie: Garlic.

Megan: Garlic, a lot of garlic. There’s a peach tree over there.

Ollie: And there’s a sign back there that says, um, hefker, which means “ownerless.” And as part of the laws of shmita, you can harvest in very specific ways. People whose land it is not can come and glean from the land, um, and you're not supposed to pick things—like, they're supposed to, kind of, fall off. And that's, like, the way that you could harvest them during shmita year.

Nahanni: It's amazing what happens to land when you let it go, right?

Megan: Right? Yeah. It's incredible. Yeah—the goldenrod is taller than us.

Nahanni: Spending the day at Linke Fligl, I saw how much it mattered to people—they were so committed to the place and the project. So why was it closing?

Margot: Yeah, that's a good question. So part of our decision to leave was the feeling of unsustainability, of not having infrastructure and housing and running water and electricity. And how that really limited our ability to grow and to become more of a community that met our social and spiritual needs. And…another part was just really wanting to move into a more sustainable organizational structure that much more better represented our community. We're currently an all-white, all-Ashkenazi staff and that, you know, didn't feel like what our vision was in the long term.

We were all kind of at a point of, like, having just poured so much of ourselves into this and really wanting new things to be birthed from this, and feeling like it would've been like an overextension to try to, like, take what we had built and, like, transition into a whole new leadership body on a whole new piece of land. It felt like the more powerful move would be to follow the intention of shmita and release, and support things to be born from what's been inspired here.

Nahanni: How does that decision feel to you?

Margot: It feels, like, heartbreaking and also feels like the right thing. Like, it feels like what we built has been so beautiful and also it's been really hard and, um, doesn't feel like it's been sustainable. And instead of trying to, like, muscle through and try to keep it going, it feels… I don't know, like subversive to try something else, and actually just commit to closing well.

So much of what capitalism teaches us is to be pro-growth. And that, like—and that really seeps into our nonprofit world is, like, it's about growth and doing more, getting bigger, scaling up. And so, yeah, that's what feels subversive, the decision to actually be like, we're gonna get smaller, we're gonna close.

Overall, I feel proud of us for making that choice. It feels like there's something really queer about like the slow process of ending and being really intentional.

[Singing starts]

I feel really grateful to get to be a part of this year-long process of closure and completion. And something we talked a lot about over the last few years is just how…like, our ancestors didn't have the ability to leave land in a way in which there was, like, closure and completion. And how by choosing to leave and giving ourselves a year to leave, we have the ability to really…leave with choice and dignity. And the hope is that, like, that will be healing.

Nahanni: Back on her bench, Molly Bagot has some final thoughts…

Molly: I know that there will continue to be ripple effects from this. I know that this land will still be here. And I was actually just making an intention in the car, driving down. I was like, “I wanna come here once a year, whether or not anyone's living here, whether or not this land is a place I can walk. I just wanna come remember… this.” And I'm excited to see what gifts it, you know, seeds in the future.

[Theme music starts]

Outro: Thank you for joining us for Can We Talk?, the podcast of the Jewish Women’s Archive. To learn more about Linke Fligl, the queer Jewish chicken farm and cultural organizing project in upstate New York, visit their website at L-I-N-K-E-F-L-I-G-L dot com and follow them on instagram @linkefligl.

Thanks to our sponsor, KOL Foods.

The Can We Talk? team includes Jen Richler and Judith Rosenbaum. Our theme music is by Girls in Trouble.

For the rest of Can We Talk?’s fall season, I’m grateful to be handing the reins over to Jen Richler, who will be hosting the show until I’m back in the spring. While I’m gone, I’ll be working on a series for my other podcast, Those Who Were There, about Jewish life in Vilna before, during, and after World War Two. 

If you’ve missed any of Can We Talk?’s previous 80 episodes, you can catch up at jwa.org/canwetalk or wherever you get your podcasts. Please share your favorite episodes with your friends and drop us a line at podcasts@jwa.org

I’m Nahanni Rous. You’ll hear from Jen in a couple of weeks with an episode about Jewish women and séances—turns out Jewish women were leaders of the spiritualist movement in the 1800s and early 1900s. It’s going to be a great episode.



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Jewish Women's Archive. "Episode 81: Linke Fligl Ends with Love." (Viewed on October 2, 2023) <https://jwa.org/episode-81-linke-fligl-ends-love>.


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