Sominski’s days as a minority began in her native St. Petersburg. Growing up in a large, Lubavitch family, her unfashionably long skirts would draw stares from non-Jewish Russians.

That, she said, helped prepare her for her new life, advocating for the acceptance of gay Jews within the Orthodox community. A community of which she is no longer a member.

A year ago, Sominski came out as queer to her classmates at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women. The next fall, she founded Merchav Batuach, or Safe Space, a sensitivity training program for straight Orthodox Jews who want to support LGBTQ Jews.

“There are a lot of people who could be allies,” she said, citing the support for her efforts she’s received from straight Stern students.

Sominski, who now identifies as “culturally” Jewish, founded Merchav Batuach under the auspices of Eshel, a national organization for gay Orthodox Jews. She also serves as a volunteer for Footsteps, a Brooklyn-based support group/social service agency for men and women who have left black hat and chasidic communities.

“I was always very public,” said Sominski, who posted on her Facebook page a survey she conducted of Stern students about their attitudes toward sex. She frequently speaks about the subject of gay Orthodox Jews, writes for campus publications, designed a curriculum for Merchav Batuach and distributed “This is a Safe Space” stickers to be posted on Stern dorm room doors.

According to federal statistics, about two percent of Americans over the age of 18 identify as gay or lesbian. That would include at least 20 of Stern’s 1,000 current students — and many of its graduates.

The number of gay Jews “who used to go to Stern is enormous,” Sominski said. “I’ve dated three of them.”

Literary birthdate. Sominski, a prolific writer, shares the same birthday as novelist Vladimir Nabokov and William Shakespeare.

Literary language study: Sominski, who learned English in school in Russia and later at movie theaters in London, supplemented her grasp of the language by reviewing a bilingual edition of Hamlet.

merchavbatuach@eshelonline.org

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