Jewish American Heritage Month – An American Dream

Founders of the Horowitz Brothers & Margareten matzah bakery. Standing, left to right: Joseph Horowitz, Leopold Horowitz, Moses A. Horowitz, Samuel I. Horowitz. Seated, left to right: Ignatz Margareten and Regina Margareten. (Image courtesy of author)

In a world in which we see terrible news everyday, we could all use a story of resilience and strength. In these difficult days, we must not forget how Jewish people survive and thrive.

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

Imagine you had been living a relatively quiet existence in Hungary when suddenly a blood libel was declared against the Jews. Known as the Tisza-Eszler Affair, it involved the accusation that Jews had murdered a Christian girl 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 surfaced that she had not been murdered, the Jews were blamed for her death. Pogroms ensued and Jews were attacked mercilessly.

Soon after the blood libel, 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 and Osher was going to be forced into the army. He and the family decided he must leave for America, and so, in 1882, he journeyed to the US.

Since the other sons in the family would soon come of age for conscription, in the fall of 1883, the family decided they, too, should leave for America. They left behind all their belongings, one daughter and her husband and family along with the rest of their family. My great-great-great grandparents Jacob and Myrel (Mary) Horowitz took their younger daughter, Regina, her new husband, Ignatz Margareten, and their three other sons, including my great-great-grandfather Levi (Leopold) Horowitz across the sea.

They left in late December 1883 and arrived in early January 1884. It is interesting to note that they did not see the Statue of Liberty when they docked in New York Harbor because she was not standing yet.

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 can still be found on many Passover products. I always buy H&M matzah on Passover to continue the tradition. I even found their label at the Weizmann Museum of American Jewish History while on a Hadassah Northern NJ trip many years ago.

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 their 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 (wise scholar). He taught himself English and math when he arrived in the US 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 (rabbinical commentary, an essential component of the Talmud) 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 traditional Orthodox Jewish lives.

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.

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. So, in 1928, he helped to open the Shulamith School for Girls, the first Orthodox Jewish elementary school for female children, 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 grew up with his cousins all living in the same neighborhood, 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. My great grandmother Rebecca was a founding member of the Bridgeport, CT chapter of Hadassah. 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 NJ 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.

When Jews flee persecution and arrive as penniless immigrants in a foreign country with a foreign language, they do what they must to build their lives. My family is an example of finding a path to safety and success in America. Jewish American Heritage month honors their story and the stories of a vast number of Jewish families who came to this country to escape persecution. We need to remember this today, as we struggle again and must stand up and be proud of our People and of our homeland, Israel.

About the Author
Stephanie Z. Bonder is a proud Jew and lifelong Zionist. Stephanie studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for her junior year abroad and is currently pursuing her masters in Jewish Education at the Hebrew University Melton School of Education. In her volunteer hours, she is on the National Board of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America where she currently serves as Chair of the Speakers Bureau and team member of the Education and Advocacy division. Stephanie teaches teens and adults on Jewish Peoplehood, Zionism and current events in Israel through her involvement with the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest and her synagogue, Congregation Agudath Israel. All of her blogs are her own personal opinions and do not represent the organizations with which she is affiliated.
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