Much more than matzah

Much more than matzah

The Horowitz-Margareten American dream immigration story

A family reunion in 1991 drew many of the descendants of Leopold Horowitz.
A family reunion in 1991 drew many of the descendants of Leopold Horowitz.

More than 140 years ago, my family made the difficult decision to leave Hungary and set out for America.

Imagine that you had been living a relatively quiet existence when suddenly a blood libel was declared against the Jews in that country. This particular blood libel, known as the Tisza-Eszler Affair, involved the accusation that Jews had murdered a Christian girl, Eszter Solymosi, in 1882 and used her blood for religious ceremonies.

As a result of the accusation, a long-drawn-out series of legal measures were brought against Jews. Even after proof that she had not been murdered surfaced, they still were blamed for her death. Pogroms ensued, and Jews were attacked mercilessly.

Soon after, my great-great-great uncle Osher (Joseph) was called up for universal military conscription. Traditionally, a Jewish father could go to the conscription office and schmeer (bribe) the officials to spare his son from having to go into the army. This time, however, the official refused the money. Osher was going to be forced to serve. He and the family decided he must leave for America. and so, in 1882, he fled to the United States.

Founders of Horowitz Brothers & Margareten: standing, from left, Joseph, Leopold, Moses, and Samuel Horowitz. Seated, from left, Ignatz and Regina Margareten.

Since the other sons soon would come of age for conscription, much of the immediate family decided the following year that they, too, should leave for America. One daughter and her husband and his family along with the rest of their family would remain.

In late December 1883, my great-great-great grandparents, Jacob and Myrel (Mary) Horowitz, took their younger daughter, Regina, and her new husband, Ignatz Margareten, and their three other sons, including my great-great-grandfather Levi (Leopold) Horowitz, and crossed the Atlantic.

They arrived in New York Harbor in early January 1884 but were not greeted by the Statue of Liberty, since It would not be erected and dedicated for another two years.

The family settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and opened a grocery store. When Passover 1884 came, there was no matzah to be found, so they decided to bake their own. They baked the first batch, using 50 barrels of flour.

Over the years, their enterprise grew tremendously. Today the family no longer owns the company, but the Horowitz Brothers & Margareten Company label still can be found on many Passover products. I always buy H&M matzah on Passover to continue the tradition. I even found the label at the Weizmann Museum of American Jewish History while on a Hadassah Northern New Jersey trip many years ago.

Stephanie and Alan Bonder are surrounded by family at their wedding.

Jacob, my great-great-great grandfather, put his daughter, Regina, her husband, and their four sons into the business to run the matzah factory. The family also sold many other kosher products in its grocery store. The Horowitz family had come to America with very little, but what they had, they had put to good use and built the business. They were living the American Dream. They believed in supporting the Jewish community and they employed many new immigrants in their factory.

Levi, my great-great grandfather, was known as a talmid chacham — a wise scholar. He taught himself English and math when he arrived in the United States at the age of 18. He ran a butcher shop in addition to helping with the bookkeeping at the matzah factory. A Hebrew scholar, he, along with his brother-in-law, would study Gemarah during breaks in the workday.

Levi and his wife, Esther, had six children. My great-grandmother Rebecca was the oldest child. She, along with her siblings, received a strong secular and Jewish education and lived a traditional Orthodox Jewish life.

Levi wanted to do good in the world. He raised money for many charities, one of which gave money to destitute rabbis in the Holy Land. But that was not his greatest accomplishment.

Descendants of Leopold Horowitz, including the author’s father, David Zimmer, accompanied by her mother, Joan Fellman Zimmer, and her grandmother, Anne B. Zimmer, join Mildred Horowitz Nagel and Emanuel Zimmer.

According to our family lore, Levi believed that since Jewish women were responsible for the home and spent the most time with the children, they should be knowledgeable and able to share Jewish traditions with them. In 1928 he opened the Shulamith School for Girls, the first Orthodox Jewish elementary school for girls, which was known for its high academic standards in both secular and religious studies. Supporting women began generations ago in my family.

Rebecca married my great-grandfather Samuel Zimmer and moved to Connecticut. She gave birth to 11 children, who remained close to each other their entire lives.

I benefited from the close family by knowing a vast number of great-aunts and -uncles and dozens of cousins. My father and his cousins all lived in the same neighborhood when they grew up; many on the same street. The family was extremely invested in their Jewish heritage and in maintaining Jewish traditions and customs.

My family was Zionist from the earliest days. Rebecca was a founding member of Hadassah’s chapter in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Belief in Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people was a steadfast ideology in our family.

As an active lay leader in our Jewish community of Greater MetroWest and a life member of Hadassah, I feel that I channel my great-grandmother as I do my volunteer work for Israel and the Jewish community. She was proud that as a teenager I was involved in the Jewish community, working as a camp counselor at the JCC day camp and as president of my synagogue youth group, USY. Sadly, she died when I was in college. If she could see me now, I know she would be proud of my work with the Jewish community. It’s part of the family legacy. It runs in my heart and in my soul.

Stephanie Z. Bonder of West Caldwell, M.Ed. is a Jewish educator who teaches throughout the MetroWest community and the National Hadassah network.

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