This Day in Jewish History / A New York Matza Maven Is Born

Regina Horowitz Margareten became the public face of her family's company and of her close-knit clan.

December 25, 1863 (some sources say December 20), is the birthdate of Regina Horowitz Margareten, who became the effective head of her family’s matza company after her husband’s death, in 1923, and remained active in its operation until her death in 1959, at age 95.

Hanna Rivka, or Regina, Horowitz was the daughter of Jacob Horowitz and Mirel Chayah Brunner Horowitz, and was born in the city of Miskolcz, Hungary. In 1883, recently wed, she and her husband, Ignatz Margareten, sailed together with her family to America, where they opened up a grocery store on New York’s Lower East Side.

Their first year in New York, the family baked their own matza for the Passover holiday. By the next year, they decided to rent a bakery and produce more matza than they needed for personal use, which they then sold in the family shop. According to family lore, they used 50 barrels of flour that year.

Within several years, matza production was the sole family business, which was called the Horowitz Brothers & Margareten Company.

The family patriarch, Jacob, died shortly after their arrival, in 1885, and Mirel Chaya in 1919. When Regina’s husband, Ignatz, died, she stepped in to run Horowitz Brothers & Margareten Company together with her four brothers. By 1932, the business was consuming 45,000 barrels of flour and grossing $1 million in annual revenues.

Officially, Regina’s title was treasurer and member of the board of directors, but she also became the public face of the company and of her proud and close-knit clan. She was known as well as the overseer of matza quality control, a task she carried out by tasting the output every few hours. Up until two weeks before her death, she arrived at the office each day at 8:30 A.M., and remained on the job until mid-afternoon, or, during the frantic lead-up to Passover, until 7 P.M.

Each year, Regina Horowitz Margareten took to the airwaves to give a pre-Passover radio greeting to the public, both in Yiddish and then in English, for the “sake of the children who may be listening in,” as she put it one year.

All in the family

The Orthodox Regina herself had six children, and her in-laws were similarly fertile, so that the clan grew large. In 1921, the joint Horowitz-Margareten clan organized a family association. For years it published a regular newsletter; starting in 2006, that was replaced by a password-protected website accessible only to family members, on which they can share family news and common interests.

Tzedakah – charity – was always an important family pursuit, and in a 1957 interview with the New York Times, Regina claimed to be involved with 107 different organizations, many of them of the type that provided assistance to indigent Jews, or that supported yeshivot. During the Depression, the company also had a policy of helping anyone who came to its offices to request assistance.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Regina was known to travel to Hungary each year to visit relations; family legend says that she traveled at times by dirigible and/or in an open-cockpit plane. In 1924, she invested in a coal mine there, mainly for the purpose of providing employment for relatives. Later, during the Holocaust, her son Jacob Margareten helped organize affidavits guaranteeing work in the U.S. to family members trapped in Europe.  

Regina Horowitz Margareten died on January 15, 1959, at the age of 95.

The Horowitz Margareten label still appears on Passover matza, but since around 1990, the company has been a division of Manischewitz, another formerly family-owned producer of matzot and other kosher foods.

Twitter: @davidbeegreen

Dreamstime
Amazon.com