The following remarks were given on February 9, 2016, by the CEO of Jewish Federation of the East Bay, at an annual education conference

Good morning. I want to thank you all for coming here today – and I hope you will find what you’re about to learn here useful.

Before we begin, I’d like to thank a few more people. I want to take a second to acknowledge Alison Stein, our grants associate, and Judith Markowitz, our director of engagement and special projects, for putting this conference on. We would not be here today without their hard work.

I would also like to thank our generous Federation donors, who’ve also made today possible, including [REDACTED].

And finally, I’d like to thank all of the teachers in our communities, for all they do for our children, all year. If only we could all be so dedicated, and so generous with our time and efforts, to educating our future leaders. Thank you.

As Jews, we are commanded to educate our children. Here in the East Bay, we’ve clearly taken that to heart. At Federation, we hear it time and time again: as a community, the most important thing for us is teaching and supporting our kids. And so, the most important thing for Federation is ALSO teaching our kids.

You can see this in what we do, including supporting the Education Council and the Early Childhood Educator’s Conference.

We do it through our Professional Development Grants program – and by the way, money is still available. If you’re an educator looking to learn and grow more in your profession, let us know.

We do it through Special Education grants, which support mainstreaming children with learning needs. We have already awarded all our money for this program year, but stay tuned – more will be available for the 2016-17 program year.

We also do it through our Sprout initiative, aimed specifically at helping Jewish families – and their young children – to discover Judaism. We do this by granting scholarships and grants for Jewish school, summer camp, and Israel travel. We do this through PJ Library, which sends a free Jewish book each month to 2,400 local families. We do this with the help of our excellent Youth and Family Concierge, Liora Brosbe, who connects Jewish families to Jewish experiences every day.

And we do it every year, when we welcome you to the Early Childhood Educator’s Conference.

I’d like to introduce Denise Moyes Schnur, and thank her for for being here. Denise is an instrumental person in the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation’s Early Childhood Educator’s Initiative, as well as the Jewish Resource Specialist program. Together, these two programs constitute a valuable resource for teachers, by providing them the support they need to teach the future of our community.

I know you’re anxious to get started. We’ve got a lot of great sessions, panels, and information for you today. But first, I want to talk about the theme we’ll be exploring today: gender fluidity and equality.

The fight for equality is ongoing. And as we celebrate the recent legal victories around same-sex marriage, and as we continue to fight for equal wages and equal treatment for men and women, a few front in this fight is being brought to light: the struggle for a society that’s inclusive of all gender expressions, beyond the male-female binary.

In this fight – just as in the ones before it – children are a critical battleground. Arguments often hinge on whether or not working mothers, same-sex parents, or established gender norms are good or bad for our kids. And educators are often caught in the middle, trying (as they always do) to chart the best course forward. Sometimes, mistakes are made – more often than not, from being unaware of the best action to take in completely uncharted territory.

So, we’re glad you’re here today. Because we want to help you successfully navigate this new world. To do so, we’ve asked Joel Baum to say a few words. Joel is the senior director of professional development and family services at Gender Spectrum, an organization that helps families, educators, and organizations to create gender sensitive and inclusive environments for children and teens. He will talk about how society’s restrictive gender definitions hurt kids that do not fit neatly in those categories, and show you how to identify and remove all obstacles for kids to simply be themselves. We hope you’ll find this enlightening and useful.

Finally, I want to play you a video created by Brook Pessin-Whedbee, and her son Micah. Little Micah got the idea to make this video after her mother would read her bedtimes stories. Micah, though he enjoyed the stories, would tell her mother that the characters were “not quite me.” So when they read “I Am Jazz,” by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel, Micah decided to write a different version: I Am Micah. The family first published it as a book, then later turned it into this video. Watch.

[PLAY VIDEO]

Wasn’t that wonderful? Now, I know you’re really ready to get started, so I won’t keep you. Thank you, and enjoy the conference.