(1863 - 1959)
Every Passover we are reminded that American Jewry has developed its own traditional means
for celebrating the holiday. Among these traditions are food products that
have become staples on countless American Jewish seder tables: sweet red
Manischewitz wines, Bartons candies, Rokeach gefilte fish and Horowitz-Margareten
matzohs. The enduring success of these products is attributable, at least in
part, to the driving force of their family founders. Regina Horowitz
Margareten and her matzot are a case in point.
Born in Hungary in 1863, Regina came to America as the 20
year old bride of Ignatz Margareten. The newlyweds were accompanied by Reginas
parents, Jacob and Mirel Horowitz. The two families went into business
together, opening a grocery store on Willett Street on New Yorks Lower East
Side. Remaining true to their Orthodoxy, the families baked matzoh for their
first Passover in America. The following year, they purchased fifty barrels of
flour, rented a bakery and produced extra matzoh for sale in their store.
According to historian Shulamith Z. Berger, writing in the American Jewish
Historical Societys Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia,
during that first year of baking matzot commercially Regina Margareten
"lit the fires, worked the dough and found customers." Within a few
years, the matzot were so popular that baking it became the sole family
In 1885, two years after the family arrived in America,
Jacob Horowitz, Reginas father, died. Regina, her mother and 4 brothers and
her husband Ignacz continued to run the now-named Horowitz Brothers &
Margareten Company. In the early years, according to historian Berger, Regina
Margareten worked through the night at the companys Manhattan bakery, and
for weeks at a time saw the light of day only on the Sabbath. Her mother died
in 1919 and her husband died in 1923, at which time Regina Margareten formally
joined the company board of directors and took the title of treasurer. The
business grew steadily. In 1931, the company used 45,000 barrels of flour and
grossed the then-considerable sum of $1 million.
In effect, Regina Margareten became the head of the
business and, according to the New York Times, the "matriarch of
the kosher food industry" in
the United States. She would arrive at the plant on New Yorks Lower East
Side each day at 8:30 AM, taste the matzoh, and have samples sent to her
office throughout the day – a one-woman quality control department. She was
instrumental in the companys 1945 decision to relocate from the Lower East
Side to a larger plant in Long Island City, so there would be room for future
growth. Her influence also pushed the firm to diversify its product line to
include noodles and other kosher food products.
Regina Margareten was a model of tzedakah.
Throughout the Depression years, she made certain that any beggar who came to
the Horowitz Brothers & Margareten factory left with something to eat. She
supported more than 100 charitable organizations and took an active role in
many of them. Among her favorites was an organization that supplied indigent
boys at a Talmud Torah with new clothes at Passover and another that provided
for needy women during pregnancy and childbirth.
Margareten was a courageous woman with a sense of
adventure. During the 1920s and 1930s she traveled annually to visit relatives
in Hungary. Family lore has it that one year in the early 1920s she flew the
London to Paris leg of the journey in an open cockpit airplane. On another
visit, she helped a relative purchase a coal mine in Edeleny, Hungary, so that
family members in the area would have jobs. When World War II began, she
directed her son Jacob to complete affidavits promising her European relatives
jobs at the company so they could escape to America.
Margareten was the companys spokesperson to the
community. During the 1940s and 1950s, she annually broadcast a Yiddish radio
greeting to the American Jewish community at Passover, which she would then
repeat in English "for the sake of he children who may be listening
in." In 1952, at age 89, Margaretens talk served as a valedictory to
what life in America had meant to her. She thanked the United States for the
"freedom, prosperity and happiness we have here." These bounties,
she reminded her audience, had made it possible for American Jewry to help
other Jewish communities around the world, and to build the new State of
Israel. For these blessings, she was grateful to America, and urged every
American Jew to be mindful of our good fortune.
As late as two weeks before her death in 1959 at the age of
96, Regina Margareten still went to the factory in Long Island City, tasted
the matzoh and checked on the price of flour. Her life was defined by three
values: excellence in business, charity toward her fellow Jews and loyalty to
family. She succeeded at all three.
Jewish Historical Society