1863 – 1959
Regina Margareten was known as the “Matza Queen” and the “matriarch of the kosher food industry,” according to her obituary in the New York Times.
Born in Balbona (Miskolcz), Hungary, on December 20 or 25, 1863, she came to America as a young bride in 1883, with her husband, Ignatz Margareten, and her parents, Jacob and Mirel Chayah (Mary) (Brunner) Horowitz. Regina, also known as Rebush and as Hannah Rivka, was the Horowitzes’ third child and second daughter.
Although pregnant with her first child, she attended night school to learn English. The newly arrived Horowitz-Margareten family was determined to maintain the traditional Orthodox life they had observed in Hungary, and opened a grocery store on Willett Street on New York’s Lower East Side. They baked matza for themselves the first Passover they were in the United States, and within a few years the matza business became their sole occupation. The initial year they used fifty barrels of flour and baked by hand in a rented bakery. Regina Margareten lit the fires, worked the dough, and found customers. The small family business grew to a company that grossed a million dollars in 1931 and used forty-five thousand barrels of flour in 1932. Much of the Horowitz Brothers & Margareten Company’s success is attributed to Regina Margareten, who told her grandchildren that in the early years she never saw the light of day except on the Sabbath.
Jacob Horowitz, Regina’s father, died in 1885. Her mother, Mirel Chayah, and her brothers Joseph, Leopold, Moses, and Samuel Horowitz continued the business together with Regina and her husband Ignatz. Mirel Chayah Horowitz died in 1919, and Ignatz passed away in 1923. After his death, Regina formally took over as treasurer and as one of the directors of the company, positions she held for the rest of her life. Her sons Jacob and Frederick later followed her into the business. Until two weeks before she died at age ninety-six, she visited the plant daily. Her particular concern was the taste and quality of the matza. She would immediately inspect the matza when she arrived at the factory at 8:30 a.m. and would have samples sent to her office throughout the day. She is credited with the idea of combining wheat grown in three different states to ensure a superior matza and with the company’s expansion into making noodles and other kosher products. As one of the company’s directors, she participated in policy-planning meetings and decisions in areas such as advertising, marketing, and real estate. When the city took over the company’s Lower East Side location for a housing project in 1945, Margareten encouraged the purchase of a large factory in Long Island City to ensure room for growth.
Margareten was the Horowitz Brothers & Margareten Company’s spokesperson for internal and external matters. It was she who dealt with union representatives. Every year before Passover during the 1940s and 1950s, Margareten would appear on the radio program sponsored by the company and greet the Jewish community. She spoke in Yiddish and repeated the message in English, for the “sake of the children who may be listening in.” Her speech for Passover 1952 was a patriotic, humanitarian, and Zionist message that expressed gratitude to the United States for the “freedom, prosperity, and happiness we have here,” which enable us to help our less fortunate brethren and participate in building the State of Israel.
Margareten embodied these charitable values in her life. She made sure that beggars never went away empty-handed from the doors of the Horowitz Brothers & Margareten Company. She was actively involved in synagogues and in religious and philanthropic organizations. The most notable were the Beth Midrash HaGadol Anshei Hungary; the Ohel Torah Talmud Torah, a Malbish Arumim society that provided indigent students at the Talmud Torah with new clothes for Passover; and the Nashim Rachmonioth Society, which helped needy women during pregnancy and after childbirth. Her obituaries report that she was a member of over a hundred different charitable organizations.
In addition to activities on behalf of the community, Regina Margareten was the matriarch of the extended Horowitz-Margareten family. She bought property in the Hunter Mountain area in the Catskills and established Margareten Park, where each of her six children—Yetta Landau, Jacob, Carrie Unterberger, Frederick, Ella Weiss, and Sadie Wohl—had a summer home. Even while staying there in her later years, she would call the firm daily to discuss the price of wheat and confer on how much to buy. She was one of the founders of the Margareten family association, and traveled to her native Hungary almost every year during the 1920s and 1930s to visit relatives. An adventurous woman, she flew the London-Paris leg of the journey in an airplane or zeppelin (family versions differ) in the 1920s. She encouraged family members to immigrate to the United States and employed them in the factory or helped them until they could establish themselves. On her visit to Hungary in 1924, she entered with a relative into partnership in a coal mine in Edeleny, Hungary. The mine provided jobs for local family members. After World War II began, her son Jacob, under her direction, completed affidavits on behalf of numerous relatives and succeeded in bringing many of them to the United States.
A vibrant, dignified woman, Regina Margareten was a pioneer in the kosher food industry in the United States and an active philanthropist in her family and the Jewish community at large. Her nephew Joel Margaretten immortalized her by registering a lilac he bred under the name “Regina.” She died in New York City on January 15, 1959.
AJYB 61:418; Ginsberg, Miriam. Telephone interview with author, July 19, 1995; Golovensky, Muriel. Telephone interviews with author, May 16 and July 18, 1995; Gomperts, Judy, comp. Directory & Genealogy of the Horowitz-Margareten Family, 1955–1994 (1994), and correspondence and telephone interviews with author, June 6 and June 18, 1995; Gross, Jack. Telephone interview with author, May 18, 1995; Gross, Shirley. Telephone interviews with author, July 5 and July 18, 1995; Horowitz, A. David. Correspondence with author, July 17, 1995; Horowitz, Herbert. Telephone interview with author, July 5, 1995; Horowitz, Jacob L. Correspondence with author, July 24 and July 30, 1995; Horowitz-Margareten Family Journal 4, no. 9 (September 1, 1946), and 4, no. 10 (October 1, 1946), and 17, no. 2 (February 1959), and 17, no. 3 (March 1959); Jewish Daily Forward, January 16, 1959, 14; Margareten, Harry. Interview with author, July 11, 1995; Margareten, Jack. Telephone interview with author, May 24, 1995; Margareten, Jerome. Telephone interview with author, July 21, 1995; Margareten, Regina. Tape recording of 1952 Passover message. Courtesy of Mrs. Judy Gomperts; Margaretten, Joel, et al., comps. Directory and Genealogy of the Horowitz-Margareten Family, 1955 (1955); Margaretten, Joel, comp. A Directory of the Horowitz-Margaretten Family (1929), and A History of the Margaretten Family. Translated by David Margaretten (1941), and Telephone interview with author, June 29, 1995; NYTimes, May 1, 1938, sec. 4, 2:6, and December 14, 1942, 20:6, and December 27, 1954, 34:2, and December 24, 1957, 13:4, and April 11, 1984, C12, and Obituary. January 15, 1959, 33:2; Radkowsky, Florence. Telephone interview with author, June 27, 1995.