Elke Martin, a native of Hamburg, Germany, didn’t — as one might imagine — grow up in the Jewish faith. But shortly after moving to the U.S. in 1990 with her former employer Greenpeace, she met her partner of nearly 19 years, Eva Freund, a Jew. Martin, who didn’t grow up with religion, found herself intrigued and eventually joined Bet Mishpachah, Washington’s LGBT synagogue. She’s so involved now she’s president of its governing board.
“I was a feminist for so many decades so I didn’t feel connected to religion at all,” Martin says. “It was all this patriarchy, you know, the father and the son, so to me it seemed you were either religiously inclined or you were a feminist. But I really liked the feeling of togetherness and family that I saw.”
Martin was downsized from Greenpeace in the mid-1990s and bounced around doing various things until six years ago when she joined Greenspring, a retirement community at which she works in Springfield, Va. She lives in Vienna.
Martin says getting involved is just her nature. But is there anything intrinsic about the Jewish faith that resonated with her?
“What really appeals to me in the Jewish faith as I understand it is that it focuses so much on this life and our responsibility here and now, not just for some gain of eternal life,” she says. “You have a responsibility to help others and to do your part here and now period.”
She and Freund celebrate Hanukkah, which ended this week, but modestly.
“It’s not a major festivity but we visit family, light candles and give very small presents. To me it’s a good expression of something to do against all this insane gift giving which is just totally out of hand I think.”
Martin enjoys hiking, biking, kayaking, fused glass, reading and vegan cooking in her free time. (Blade photo by Michael Key)
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Since 1975 or ’76. The hardest person to tell was my mom because I knew she’d be so embarrassed before her friends, and I wanted her to be proud of me. It took us a while to reconcile but we did.
Who’s your gay hero?
Del Martin (no relation) and Phyllis Lyon.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
What’s your dream gay wedding?
A celebratory event that is not just wonderful to share with friends and family but also legal on state and federal levels.
What non-gay issue are you most passionate about?
Women’s rights, violence against children and environmental protection.
What historical outcome would you change?
The rise of Nazism in Germany in the late 1920s and 1930s.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
I attended a Tina Turner concert in Hamburg once. That was pretty amazing.
On what do you insist?
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
I complained that I missed a concert of the Bitchin’ Babes at the Birchmere, due to a stupid virus.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Here she is!”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Call all my heterosexual friends.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I believe there is a benevolent organizing principle or energy out there.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Think outside the box, be as outspoken as possible and keep pushing the envelope.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
What gay stereotype annoys you most?
That all gays are fairies and all lesbians are butch.
What’s your favorite gay movie?
“Torch Song Trilogy.”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Giving gifts to people who attend your birthday party – huh?
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
The Right Livelihood Awards, also called Alternative Nobel Prizes impress me because they shed light on some incredible people who do important work but are often overlooked by the mainstream.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That I am OK the way I am.
I landed here for a job with Greenpeace in 1990, then I met my partner and now I have a bunch of good friends and the Bet Mishpachah family.