Block Yeshiva Student has High Hoops

Alex Peskin

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Considering I live with basketball maniacs, reviewing team standings and player stats is as much a part of our breakfast ritual as coffee and cereal. That said, even the maniacs were surprised to learn the area’s leading scorer doesn’t attend any ranked high school, large or small. In fact, this player’s high school, which has only 15 young men in grades 9 to 12, isn’t part of any local conference.

That’s right. The area’s leading scorer, averaging 27.5 points a game, is Block Yeshiva High School 6-foot-2 senior forward Alex Peskin. He also is second in points per game among players at Jewish high schools in the country, according to, and is one of the area’s top rebounders, averaging about 18 to 20 rebounds a game.

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The 18-year-old Peskin says he has no plans to pursue basketball competitively after high school. This summer he plans to make aliyah (his older sister did so) and continue his Jewish studies before joining the Israeli army. No slouch academically, Peskin is a National Merit Scholarship finalist and eventually hopes to pursue an engineering degree.

“Actually, I think playing at a small school has given me an opportunity to do so well,” said Peskin, who is a member of Tpheris Israel Chevra Kadisha Congregation (TICK), an Orthodox shul in Chesterfield.

Block Yeshiva basketball coach Greg King agrees in part, though the coach feels strongly that Peskin could hold his own at many small high school ranked basketball programs in the area.

“Alex would likely struggle in a big-level program,” said King, who has been coaching high school basketball at all levels, and in a myriad of communities, for 24 years (including five years at Block) “I don’t think he could play inside as he does now because of his size, up against kids who are 6-foot-7 and 6-8, but he might have success as a guard . . . He’s a great player for a small high school, with a great attitude, even-keeled and extremely coachable.”

Block Yeshiva Athletic Director Mayer Weisel explained that the Orthodox high school in Creve Coeur isn’t in a conference per se; rather, he pieces together a schedule numbering 15 games with smaller Christian and private schools as well as some home-school teams. Block Yeshiva also competes in a couple of Jewish high school tournaments in cities such as Detroit and New York.

Weisel, who graduated from Block a decade ago, said the school has had some good players over the years, “but not someone who has dominated the way Alex has.” As best as Weisel can tell, “We’ve never had a player quite like Alex,” he added.

Chicken soup for the neshama

My Granny Rose was an amazing cook, especially when it came to making what her grandchildren called “Jew food.” Her two best dishes, or at least our favorites, were kasha varnishkas chock-full of sauteed onions and chicken soup with kneidlach (a.k.a. matzoh balls). Many times I stood at her side as she cleaned the soup chickens, discarding nothing for her rich stock. For the kneidlach, she mixed generous amounts of homemade schmaltz with eggs, seltzer (never water) and matzoh meal, adding seasoning that best as I can tell, was salt, pepper and nutmeg. Try as I might to write the recipe down, it was impossible. Granny subscribed to the “pinch of this,” “smidge of that” school of cooking, but I do know she refrigerated the kneidlach batter overnight so that the matzoh meal could absorb all the moisture.

I mention this to encourage all “Jew food” cooks in the audience to submit your chicken soup recipes to the 4th Annual Jewish Light Cook-off Contest, sponsored by Schnucks. The details are on Page 3 of this week’s Light, but just to be clear, kosher and non-kosher recipes will be accepted as well as “faux” chicken soup recipes; in other words, vegetarian or vegan substitutions. We’re encouraging everyone to think “out of the pot”!

Oh, and when it comes to the seasoning, we’ll accept a “pinch of this” and a “smidge of that” instead of precise measurements because, after all, isn’t that what Jewish cooking is all about?

Farewell, Celeste

About a year ago, many of us working in the St. Louis Jewish community said goodbye to Celeste Wieselman, who cheerily greeted visitors to the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building at the front “check-in” desk. After seven years at the Kopolow building, her position was eliminated in January 2012. A full-time security guard now greets visitors and checks them in.

Unfortunately, Celeste Wieselman died earlier this month from complications due to esophageal cancer. She was 82 years old.

Her daughter-in-law, Andrea Wieselman, said Celeste never stopped looking for another job. “She went to all of her appointments at the unemployment office,” Andrea reported. “She was even looking to be an insurance salesperson. I found some papers to that effect after she had passed away.” No big surprise – Celeste’s résumé included stints as a teacher, headhunter, senior center manager, dinner theater owner and insurance broker.

Wieselman didn’t want to leave her greeting job at Federation, but she understood the decision was budgetary. She told me right before she left that what she liked most about her work was warmly welcoming people and pointing them in the right direction. A visit to the building meant a few minutes kibbitzing with Celeste, who always seemed to be in a great mood. Family members said her upbeat, positive personality earned her the nickname “Bubbles.”

A year ago, many of us working in the St. Louis Jewish community said goodbye to Celeste Wieselman, but few of us forgot her. Rest in peace, Celeste.