Community mourns irreplaceable icon
October 29, 2013 | Jewish Tribune
Special to the Tribune
It is said that only the most righteous die on Shabbat. On Sat., Aug. 31, 2013, Laya (Sklar) Block, 79, left a permanent void in the London Jewish community after losing a long, heroic battle with cancer.
A celebration of the life of this remarkable mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, teacher, mentor and friend will be held at the London Jewish Community Centre, Sun., Oct. 20 at 3 p.m.
Transcending traditional divisions within Jewish observance, Laya Block simply made Jewish happen.
Block was born Aug. 7, 1934 in Brooklyn, NY. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a masters degree in education from Brooklyn College.
In 1961 she moved to London with her husband Yitzchak and their son Chaim, the first of their eight children. She taught in the B’nai Moses Talmud Torah until 1964, when she opened Gan Gani Preschool. Nearly 800 students and 38 years later, she passed the torch to her daughter Basie Gurkow, but remained school director until recently.
In 1966, she and her husband opened the London Community Hebrew Day School, which today holds the distinction of being the smallest community in North America to support a full-time Jewish day school.
When the Blocks first came to London, they thought they would only be here a short time. As the need grew for Jewish education and outreach, it became clear to them that they would be making London their permanent home.
Bringing a mikveh to London became a major focus and in the early ’70s Laya Block made it happen. Dozens of university students were always at her Shabbat table.
In the mid-’80s the Blocks opened the original Chabad House on Bernard St., which was lovingly entrusted in 1999 to Rabbi Mordechai and Nechamie Silberberg. Today, the Berg Family Chabad House on Richmond St. has 300 university students for Shabbat dinner nearly every Friday night. A lifelong educator, Block was also the published author of the Parshah by Parshah series of children’s books. She began a women’s education program, which morphed into a monthly Rosh Chodesh learning session and an annual women’s lecture series attended by hundreds of London’s Jewish women from every spectrum of Jewish observance.