17 Cents and a Dream

My Incredible Journey from the U.S.S.R. to Living the American Dream

— book review by Scott Lorenz

Daniel Milstein, founder, president, and CEO of Gold Star Mortgage Financial Group, describes his personal path to success in a new memoir, 17 Cents & a Dream: My Incredible Journey from the USSR to Living the American Dream.

More after the jump.
17 Cents & a Dream begins with a candid, gripping account of the Milstein family’s tough life in Kiev, Ukraine under the oppressive government of the former Soviet Union. He recalls how he and his family were affected by the 1986 explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant: Daniel was ten years old, and the disaster took place only 78 miles from their home, killing 100,000 people and spreading poisonous radiation throughout the environment.

A few years later the family, struggling against poverty, government oppression, and anti-Semitism, made a secret plan to flee to America. After a narrow escape, the family arrived in Ann Arbor, Michigan with no understanding of English and few belongings.

Young Daniel had only seventeen cents in his pocket, given to him by a friend to cover the expense of a postage stamp so that Daniel could send him a letter. In the ensuing years, Daniel endured extreme poverty, endless hunger, relentless bullying from his new classmates all while working long hours mopping floors and cleaning restrooms at a McDonald’s.

“The never-ending sense of hunger in the pit of my stomach,” he writes, “became a part of me and manifested into the drive to do more, to be more, so my family could eat without worry.”

That hunger, plus the work ethic instilled in him by his grandfather, fueled Milstein’s determination; after graduating from college, he worked for various financial institutions and was consistently promoted because of his strong work ethic.

But perhaps most inspiring is Milstein’s courage and sheer willpower as he began to build upon his success in the world of finance, working harder and longer than anyone else until eventually opening and growing his own multimillion-dollar company, Gold Star Mortgage Financial Group.

17 Cents & a Dream: My Incredible Journey from the USSR to Living the American Dream is both a dramatic autobiography of a true American success story, and a manual for anyone who dreams of becoming successful in today’s competitive world of finance and sales.  

Book Review: Fugitive Colors

Composition VI by Vassily Kandinsky (1913)

— Reviewer: Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Fugitive Colors by Lisa Barr offers a sensuous and stunning entry into the art scene in Europe during World War II. This work of profoundly engaging historical fiction delves into the passion and peril of those artists who were then in the thrall of creating a wide array of modern art genres. Entartete Kunste — “degenerate art” is the term the Nazi spin doctors created to justify prohibiting, destroying and also secretly hoarding some of the works of emerging avant garde masters such as Klee, Mondrian, Munch, Chagall, Kandinsky, Nolde and over one hundred more.

The full review after the jump.
Barr’s riveting scenes sear with the heat of in-the-moment abstract expressionist innovation, in contrast to many earlier grand masters who would stand at easels carefully placing each stroke. She reminds us of how magnificently radical these artists were in their time, how outsider their ways in contrast to classical realism and even their Classical Impressionist forebears.

Rene began to caress the wall with midnight blue pigment, lightly dragging his brush across the white plaster, creating an undulated effect. He then added in light dabs of orange, and the texture changed completely. Julian had never seen anything like it. As the music picked up, Rene’s body began to twist as he painted. He swept from left to right, blending in various shades of yellow, green and red into the blue… His full lips were parted, his breath was heavy, his eyes opened and closed rapidly as if surprised. His neck muscles seemed to be bursting through his skin. Rene looked at once monstrous and inhumanly handsome. He did not paint. He was the paint.

This insider-styled story can’t help but fascinate. The action is given over through the eyes of Julian, a young Orthodox Jewish American who abandons his difficult family in service of his essence — drawing, painting-art.

When he spotted Ernst Engel’s work, he had to make a conscious effort to keep his hands at his sides. He leaned forward and read the plaque: “Women Bathing.” It was gorgeous, sensual and forbidden. The colors were shocking. The lake was pinkish, the sky golden, the naked bodies free-flowing with burgundy and splashes of indigo. Julian yearned to touch the painting, to feel the depth of the texture against his fingertips…

Julian may yearn to paint, but trysts and jealousies between artist friends and Nazi horrors steadily intrude with vicious intensity. The ethical dilemmas he will face yield important questions for contemplation and discussion, particularly whether to put your life and integrity at risk for a friend, or lover, or for the sake of saving works of art. Today, just over 60 years after the Holocaust, incredibly, it is not so difficult to imagine art being stalked like a fugitive. Here in America numerous fundamentalists attempt to prevent various forms of art and books from appearing in public institutions. The wielding of degenerate Nazi power is well and extensively articulated by Barr:

  “Hartt,” began the Baron, “you will compile the lists of artists whose work we will confiscate and the museum directors who refuse to cooperate with us. They must be dismissed from their positions immediately. Start with Berlin’s Nationalgalerie, particularly the Kronprinz-Palias, it should be purged of all its modern art. Dismiss everyone who works there, effective immediately… I expect a full-scale plan on my desk at the end of this month…
  “Exactly how far can I go?” Streibel piped up.
  “Far enough,” the Baron answered. “The key to our success is to spread fear. Once there is real fear out there, I promise you it will perpetuate and do the work for us…”

Have you, for example, perhaps viewed Emil Nolde’s surviving light and life-filled color-full canvases? 1,052 of his works were taken by the Nazis, most were slashed or burned. While Fugitive Colors focuses on the evolution of Abstract Expressionism, art forms declared “degenerate” also included: Bauhaus, Fauvism, Cubism, Impressionism, Dada, New Objectivity, and Surrealism.

The Nazis exhibited the works they stole in an Entartete Kundst exhibit in Munich, featuring over 650 paintings, sculptures, prints, and books by 112 artists from July 19, 1937 until November 30 before taking the show to eleven other cities in Germany and Austria. Famously, on the night of July 27, 1942 in the gardens of the Galerie National du Jeu de Paume in Paris, works by Miro, Picasso, Ernst, Klee, Leger and Picasso were destroyed in a bonfire. According to Stephanie Barron, author of Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany, 16,558 works were expropriated during this time. A good number of works were secreted away by Goebbels and other Nazis leaders in hopes of future appreciation in value. Some that were found buried after the war are thought to be among the substantial collection in the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia. Major museums in Paris, Munich and New York are among those with significant collections open to the public.

Lisa Barr’s Fugitive Colors is more than good reading; it is an important form of honoring the legacy of the abstract expressionists. She advances our appreciation of this genre of painting by creating readable sensations of the sort usually reported by synesthetes — where the senses switch places — tasting a color, seeing a sound, hearing a touch — a rare accomplishment.

Powerful pacing, well-developed characters, expert twists of the plot and the capacity to effectively convey genuine human and artistic sensibilities informed by in-depth period research result in a book that is hard to put down. This work of historical fiction won the Hollywood Film Festival’s manuscript “Opus Magnum Discovery Award.” Fugitive Colors by Lisa Barr is a book you won’t be likely to forget.

Sticks & Stones: Review of “Pressing Israel”

Lee Bender and Jerome R. Verlin

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” Nowhere is this saying more false than in the conflict over Israel. Is Israel the “light to the nations?” Or is Israel the cause of so many global problems? Why, in world public opinion polls, is Israel consistently voted one of the most negatively rated nations of the world?

Local Philadelphia area authors, Lee Bender and Jerome Verlin, have recently published a timely book titled: Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed from A to Z. They extensively document their case that the Main Stream Media frames the Israeli Jewish-Muslim conflict in terms that favor the Muslims. They explain why it matters. And they give an example of our own Philadelphia Inquirer publishing a more balanced report, as a result of a letter writing campaign. Their book also provides an extensive background of the history and politics of Israel.

More after the jump.
One of the authors, Jerome Verlin, has written a weekly column. This style of standalone articles is carried over in the book. The chapters are each complete in themselves. It is possible to go directly to a section of interest, without reading the entire book. On the other hand, this results in some information being repeated in multiple locations.

The beginning of the book consists of a series of short articles, one for each letter of the alphabet: A Apartheid, B Borders, C Creation-of-Israel, etc. Each article includes extensive documentation from the Philadelphia Inquirer. The second half of the book has more in-depth coverage of the history and politics of the region, including quotes from key individuals.

Media Bias Against Israel

The Main Stream Media frames their reporting by what they include and by what they leave out. Words have implications and shades of meaning. Although the book was published before Operation Pillar of Defense, their comments about Gazan rocket attacks and the Iron Dome defense system could have been written today

According to Bender and Verlin, one of the major examples of media bias is writing that IDF defensive actions and Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians are morally equivalent. The media report that Palestinian “militants” or “factions” launch rockets at Israel and Israel “retaliates” with air strikes, as if the two groups were on the same level. The authors write that it would be more accurate to report that Gazan terrorists shoot rockets at Israeli population centers, hoping to kill civilian men, women and children. In defense, the IDF strikes those terrorists, their rocket launchers and weapons caches. As Alan Dershowitz says, it is as if the arsonist and the firefighter were moral equals. Hamas is happy to deliberately kill Israeli Jewish civilians and happy for the media publicity if Israel accidentally kills Gazan civilians when the IDF shoots back at missile launchers in self-defense.

Two-State Solution or a One-and-a-Half-State Solution?

Both Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu have stated that they accept the “Two State Solution.” Netanyahu has referred to the Arab position as “two states for a people-and-a-half.”

Netanyahu explains that his plan is a Jewish State of Israel that gives full citizenship to its current Arab residents, living in peace alongside a Palestinian Arab State. However, Abbas is quoted as saying that he will never accept a Jewish State. All Jews must be removed from the future Palestinian Arab State, including from the Old City section of Jerusalem. In addition, the descendants of Muslim Arab “refugees” currently living in Gaza, Judea and Samaria, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere, must be resettled in Israel, which will not be a Jewish state. The Arabs get a Muslim, Palestinian State. And Israel is shared between the current one million Israeli Arab Muslim citizens, the four million descendents of Arab Muslim “refugees” under the “right of return” and the 6 million Jews. So the Arab Muslims get one and a half states and the Jews get what is left over in a shared, non-Jewish State.

(The authors supply numerous documented quotes that spokesmen for Hamas have publicly stated their plans to eliminate the Jews from Israel, as their long term goal.)


Pressing Israel is a good introduction to the Israel-Muslim conflict as well as a valuable reference for those who are already knowledgeable about the Middle East situation. It can be referred to in discussions and is useful for preparing letters to the editor. It would be helpful to college students who are facing anti-Zionist protests on campus.

If a second edition is published, the printed, paper version of the book would be even more valuable as a reference if an index was added. A fully searchable version of the book is already available as a Kindle e-book from Amazon.com, making an index for the electronic version unnecessary.