(1863 - 1959)
By Michael Feldberg
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, Barton’s 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 Regina’s parents, Jacob and Mirel Horowitz. The two families went into business together, opening a grocery store on Willett Street on New York’s 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 Society’s 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 business.
In 1885, two years after the family arrived in America, Jacob Horowitz, Regina’s 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 company’s 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 York’s 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 company’s 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 company’s 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, Margareten’s 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.
Source: Michael Felberg, Ph.D.