The high holidays are approaching, but some Jewish families will not get to usher in the new year enjoying honey cake with their loved ones
Lorraine will not spend the holidays with her only grandchildren due to a family rift that began 18 years ago. “Every Jewish holiday is a total sadness,” she said. “It breaks my heart.”
Lorraine, whose surname JN will not reveal for privacy reasons, says she has been prevented from seeing her three grandchildren after a dispute involving her son and daughter-in-law but was reluctant to share her story in case it worsens her situation.
“My friends, they’ve got their kids, they’ve got their grandkids, they’ve got their great grandkids around them, and that’s normal,” she said. “But for the rest of us, what’s normal is not to be able to see our grandchildren and it really is a tragedy.”
Lorraine, who lost her older son and husband in 2017, is now campaigning for grandparents’ right to a relationship with their grandchildren.
Lorraine runs a support group, which gives estranged grandparents a safe space to open up about their situation. Cases may include family rifts caused by disputes, the death of a parent or remarriage, or divorce.
“Sometimes some small thing can get blown up out of proportion, a mole-hill into a mountain,” she said. “Obviously I only hear the one side of the story but if you were to come to one of my group meetings and meet the grandparents you’d say ‘what lovely people they are’.”
The group began in the community and has opened up to non-Jewish members. It now welcomes around 50 grandparents who come to meetings every six weeks, regularly attended by rabbonim, counsellors, barristers, and local dignitaries.
“Sometimes when people come for the first time they don’t stop talking because they haven’t had the opportunity and what’s said in the room stays in the room,” she said.
Lorraine, along with 15 MPs, Dame Esther Rantzen and lawyer Vanessa Lloyd Platt will go to Parliament next week to raise awareness of the plight of the estimated one million grandchildren around the UK who are denied contact with their grandparents.
Unlike many countries, Britain does not offer grandparents the automatic right to apply to see their grandchildren, said lawyer Lloyd Platt who backs the campaign.
Grandparents seeking court orders to see their grandchildren have to obtain leave before they can even begin the process, Lloyd Platt told JN.
“The new Act I want to try and get through […] would make small amendments to promote the right of grandchildren to have a continuing involvement with the grandparent,” she added.
Nigel Huddleston, MP for Mid Worcestershire, sees it as a matter of child protection. “Every child should have the right to access to their wider family, especially their birth grandparents, unless there is clear evidential reason to keep them apart to protect the child,” he said.
Esther Rantzen, founder of Childline and Silverline, echoed the MP’s views, saying: “As a grandparent myself, I know how important it is to have my grandchildren in my life and how much they give me as well. For those grandchildren who are wrongly deprived of the love and security their grandparents can provide, this can be the loss of an important lifeline”.