Jay Rosenzweig on His Jewish Roots, Human Rights Activism and Passion for Equality

Angelena Iglesia

Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Jay Rosenzweig seemed to be everywhere. Although in theory, based in Toronto, he is the maestro of multi-tasking, appearing in Los Angeles on one day as a producer for a project to save the environment; in New York the next to advise a high tech […]

Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Jay Rosenzweig seemed to be everywhere. Although in theory, based in Toronto, he is the maestro of multi-tasking, appearing in Los Angeles on one day as a producer for a project to save the environment; in New York the next to advise a high tech firm; and then off to Tel Aviv, the U.K. or Dubai, to help firms recruit top talent. The New York Times even interviewed him for their series on coping with the ups and downs of business travel.

Rosenzweig is the founder and CEO of Rosenzweig & Company, a leadership strategy firm with an international reputation for identifying and recruiting high-performing talent. “We design, build and attract world-class teams to help companies to achieve exponential success,” he explained.

Rosenzweig is the ultimate relationship builder and super connecter. He counts as friends and associates Nobel Peace Prize nominee and former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler; Humanitarian and NBA Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo; and Academy Award and Grammy Award winner AR Rahman (“Game of Thrones,” “Slumdog Millionaire.”)

Recently, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau endorsed the latest edition of Rosenzweig’s groundbreaking annual report, which has been tracking the advancement of women in senior corporate positions for 15 years. Other contributors to his report include Sheryl Sandberg, Alyssa Milano, Van Jones, Andrew Yang, Deepak Chopra and Andra Day.

Rosenzweig was the initial investor in the West L.A. artists’ sanctuary Winston House. He is a senior advisor to many mission-driven businesses and funds, including L.A.-based FullCyle, dedicated to investing in mega projects and businesses to reverse the climate change crisis; Ozone X, a New York-based venture capital firm purpose-built to invest in and scale mission-driven tech companies founded by women and underserved minorities; Clearstone, a New York-based collaborative venture fund dedicated to investing in FinTech and EdTech solutions that reduce barriers to upward mobility; and Dream Maker Ventures, Canada’s first Black-led early-stage venture capital firm. He also helped Jodi Kovitz found #MoveTheDial, which became a global movement to advance women in the tech sector.

The Journal caught up with Rosenzweig at his home in Toronto with his wife and three kids.

Rosenzweig grew up in a primarily Jewish neighborhood, where he went to Hebrew school through high school.

“Like most people, I can trace my values and interests back to my upbringing,” he said. “I was brought up in Ville Saint Laurent, a multicultural section of Montreal, although my neighborhood had many young, Jewish families. I attended a Jewish parochial school, Talmud Torah, from kindergarten until grade six and then Herzliyah High School.”

He said being raised in the Jewish tradition, while simultaneously being exposed to other cultures not only deepened his pride in his heritage but gave him an appreciation and a sense of empathy for others.

Jay Rosenzweig and other community leaders with Toronto Mayor John Tory on a bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

“One of the phrases from my Jewish studies that struck me when I was very young, was  ‘Justice, justice shall you pursue.’ The repetition of the word justice underscores the deep importance of this obligation, which is truly a foundational principle of Jewish law and ethics.”

He credits his parents, Myer and Rose Rosenzweig, for shaping who he is today. “My mother was a wonderful, welcoming woman,” he said. “I was about to have a birthday and she decided to have a party for me and invite my friends from the block. This group of kids I used to play with included two Black girls, twins, Petra and Camille.”

Unfortunately, he said one of his white friends’ fathers hesitated on hearing the twins were being invited. “My mother was not moved by this disapproval,” Rosenzweig recalled. “She stuck to her guns. More than that, she found a way to make her point. In those days it was common to take photos using a Polaroid instant camera at parties. So she said to the man’s son, ‘Come over here and let me take a picture of you,’ and plopped him between Petra and Camille. She later took the picture and dropped it in the man’s mailbox. She had made her point — and provided me with a life-long lesson.”

Rosenzweig said he was glad he went into law because “it gave me a good foundation, and it also gave me a chance to meet a professor, Irwin Cotler, who has had a profound influence on me, one that lasts to this day.”

Moving into leadership strategy Rosenzweig said, “It was an unexpected pivot, but a great business opportunity. I promised myself that if I left the law permanently, I would continue to find ways to help people and give back. I took to the business quickly with this boutique firm, and then suddenly the firm was acquired by the largest firm in our sector, Korn Ferry, and I became a young partner there. I stayed a few years, but I’m an entrepreneur by nature, so I started my own firm to serve clients better than I could at a big firm. My vision – which has been realized – was of a firm that could provide the most senior, research-based, comprehensive, and customized service to our clients for their most critical needs.”

Jay Rosenzweig co-chairing a bipartisan community gathering

Rosenzweig’s activity in the tech space is wide-ranging. In addition to helping early-stage businesses build first-class teams, he helps with fundraising, business development and overall strategic and operational advice. “I love helping entrepreneurs achieve their goals,” he said. “It’s not only about mentoring them on the business side, but also helping them achieve well rounded, meaningful lives.”

He applies these same principles to his Jewish activism. “Being a productive member of the Jewish community is important to me,” he said. “In Toronto,  I am on the board of United Jewish Appeal’s Genesis, which provides mentorship, networking opportunities, entrepreneurial and philanthropic advice to Jewish young adults.  I have worked to attract major donors by co-chairing one-day visits to New York City, where they got exclusive opportunities to meet with people like David Stern, Henry Kissinger, Charles Bronfman.”

Rosenzweig also is on the boards of Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee and a board member of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, whose mission is to combat hate, anti-Semitism, and racism and to speak out against and prevent future genocides

“I have been outspoken about the increase in incidents of anti-Semitism and will continue to be,” Rosenzweig said. “Silence in the face of hate is one of our greatest enemies.  It is important to fight discrimination wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head.”

The entire Rosenzweig family is involved in Jewish causes, he added. “I support my wife Renee’s incredible leadership endeavors in the Jewish community, including a fashion show she puts on every year to raise money and awareness for an amazing school for kids with special needs —  Kayla’s Children Centre.” She also supports Migdal Ohr, which Rosenzweig describes as “a beacon of hope for Israel’s orphaned and at-risk youth.” And the Rosenzweig children also are involved in the community playing leadership roles in Young Judaea and Hillel.

He also notes that intersectionality is important. “We need to stand together, all groups endangered by and marginalized by hate and discrimination. As global citizens, we must all stand up for one other. Thinking back, I thank my parents for [imbuing] me with these values from the moment I was born.”

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