Weekend Edition Saturday

Saturday mornings are made for Weekend Edition Saturday, the program wraps up the week's news and offers a mix of analysis and features on a wide range of topics, including arts, sports, entertainment, and human interest stories. The two-hour program is hosted by NPR's Peabody Award-winning Scott Simon.

Drawing on his experience in covering 10 wars and stories in all 50 states and seven continents, Simon brings a humorous, sophisticated and often moving perspective to each show. He is as comfortable having a conversation with a major world leader as he is talking with a Hollywood celebrity or the guy next door.

Weekend Edition Saturday has a unique and entertaining roster of other regular contributors. Marin Alsop, conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, talks about music. Daniel Pinkwater, one of the biggest names in children's literature, talks about and reads stories with Simon. Financial journalist Joe Nocera follows the economy. Howard Bryant of EPSN.com and NPR's Tom Goldman chime in on sports. Keith Devlin, of Stanford University, unravels the mystery of math, and Will Grozier, a London cabbie, talks about good books that have just been released, and what well-read people leave in the back of his taxi. Simon contributes his own award-winning essays, which are sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant.

Weekend Edition Saturday is heard on NPR Member stations across the United States, and around the globe on NPR Worldwide. The conversation between the audience and the program staff continues throughout the social media world.

The end of the 113th Congress means a lot of goodbyes for retiring members and for those who lost in November. That means, at least for a moment, partisanship took some time off on the Senate floor.

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A poster of Baha Abu Jarad, a member of the Fatah movement, who was killed b...
The two leading Palestinian factions recently agreed to end a feud and work together. But in the Gaza Strip, the wounds have not healed from a nasty bout of infighting in 2007.

Three months after the Gaza Strip war between Hamas and Israel, reconstruction of destroyed homes and businesses has hardly started. Part of the problem is the lack of clear Palestinian government authority on the ground.

This past spring, the two main Palestinian political factions, Fatah and Hamas, agreed to set aside their bitter rivalry and backed a single government. Fatah, a more secular group that is stronger in the West Bank, is headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Islamist group Hamas has most of its support in Gaza, and effectively drove the Fatah leadership out of the territory in a violent split that killed hundreds in 2007.

Despite this formal reconciliation, there are still many scores to be settled.

During the Gaza street battles seven years ago, Baha Abu Jarad was a local leader in Fatah's armed brigades. His wife, Jamalat, remembers when Hamas attacked their home.

"When the attack started, Baha was sleeping here on this couch," she says. "There was an explosion in the house and we immediately understood we were being targeted."

The firefight lasted six hours, she said, damaging walls and setting curtains on fire. She was shooting a Kalashnikov out the windows along with her husband and many of his brothers, including Ala'a Abu Jarad.

"At one point a delegation of other militants came and said Hamas doesn't want the family, and doesn't want to scare the kids," he says. "They just wanted Baha in person to turn himself in."

The family refused. Baha Abu Jarad survived that night but was assassinated in a later attack. His wife, Jamalat was 30, with four children.

"He had never been home that much since he was always working with the Palestinian resistance," she says. "But after he was killed, we felt empty and broken. The community expected us to take revenge. My children believed in this too."

Her youngest, Saraj Abu Jarad is now 10. The girl says she refused to stand at school when a classmate's father visited.

"He is a Hamas man, and they killed my father when I was young," she says. "I was the only one who refused to stand."

Anti-Hamas sentiment runs so deep in this pro-Fatah family that one woman won't go to shops owned by Hamas supporters. Arrangements for a marriage, the family said, ended when the would-be groom spotted signs of Hamas in the would-be bride's home.

This doesn't surprise Maher el-Hoily, a Hamas member and teacher of religious law at the Islamic University of Gaza.

"Say there are two neighbors, one Hamas and one Fatah, who both lost sons in the split," he says. "They won't like each other, even if neither had anything to do with killing the others' son. This is wrong. Hatred over political loyalty is a deformed culture."

El-Hoily sits on a joint Fatah-Hamas committee that is supposed to compensate families who lost loved ones during the 2007 fighting. But he says the leadership dispute has paralyzed the work and worries people could get angry again.

"No one has taken revenge yet because they are waiting to see what the political parties and the joint government will do," he says. "There's also been good security in Gaza under Hamas. The danger is that this could start to weaken."

Last month, small bombs exploded simultaneously outside the homes of more than a dozen Fatah leaders in Gaza. They were quick to blame Hamas. In the West Bank, Hamas leaders say Palestinian police, as well as Israeli soldiers, have arrested scores of Hamas leaders recently.

In Gaza, police haven't been paid for months. Hospital cleaners recently went on strike because they haven't been paid either. In the general population, frustration is high over the slow pace of rebuilding after the war this summer between Hamas and Israel.

After waiting several hours in line this week to buy one bag of cement, Rabiya Garmout blamed the lack of Palestinian leadership.

"It's because of the internal dispute between the two parties. Donors are putting money in the bank, but it's just not getting here because of the split," Garmout says.

International aid officials say that has been a factor holding up the money. Despite long-held grudges, many Gazans say they want real political reuinification.

"Most people want to finish the split between Fatah and Hamas because we are suffering too much," says Dr. Salem el-Hessy, a Fatah supporter. "The leaders, I think they are the problem."

His Fatah uncle was killed during the violence seven years ago. The family accepted $36,000 from Hamas as compensation, then returned the cash in a public ceremony. El-Hessy says that was a gesture of mutual respect the Palestinian leaders would do well to follow.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Wrapped in gold and silver foil, chocolate gelt are often handed out as a li...
Many Jewish families celebrate the holiday by handing out gelt, chocolate coins covered in gold and silver. These days they're treats for kids. But the practice began as a way to thank labor.

Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, starts on Tuesday night. But the flickering candles won't be the only things shining on the table. Many families celebrate with gelt, chocolate coins covered in gold and silver foil. But while this treat is beloved, it's not all that delicious.

"It snaps. It's not soft and buttery — it's waxy. This is chocolate you have to chew," jokes Ariel Cohn, who runs Tree of Life, a Jewish pre-school in Portland, Ore.

Although you can now buy upscale Jewish gelt — from fair trade certified to chocolates shaped like ancient Judean coins — Cohn, like many Jews, still has a sentimental attachment to the waxy coins. Because, well, it's Hanukkah.

"It's what human life is made of," Cohn laughs. "Holidays and gatherings where you see your family and your friends. And you can make anything a part of tradition, really."

But it turns out this particular part of tradition used to look a lot different. Gina Glasman, who teaches Judaic Studies at Binghamton University, says that in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, you do find something that is called Hanukkah gelt. But it has nothing to do with children, and nothing to do with chocolate. Instead, this gelt is basically an end-of-the-year tip for itinerant workers.

"A butcher for kosher meat, and a teacher for Jewish studies," lists Glasman. "And you'd even have a guy employed to bang on people's doors to wake them up for prayers. Hanukkah was a time you paid these men a little bit extra."

Glasman notes there was also a tradition of minting coins for special occasions — but not for Hanukkah. These, instead, were for charitable giving, or holidays like Purim. And if you were to give any sort of gift, it was generally for the holiday of Purim. But as families moved from the community-centered shtetl to towns and cities, these money rituals of the self-sustaining communities began to change — and the practice of Hanukkah began to change as well.

"By the end of the 19th century," Glasman notes, "you see, mysteriously, the custom switch from giving tips to these guys to giving a little gift to your children."

And when Jews began to emigrate, it changed even more — because of Christmas. Jonathan Sarna, who teaches American Jewish history at Brandeis University, says that as Christmas is magnified in the American setting, becoming a national holiday, Hanukkah too becomes magnified. It takes on new importance, and the focus shifts to gift-giving and children. But even so, it still maintains echoes of the past.

"We've morphed that gelt into chocolate coins, as a kind of cultural memory," Sarna notes.

He acknowledges that the rise of chocolate gelt, in the early- to mid-20th century, is a small part of Hanukkah. But adopting new traditions — and connecting them to the past — is part of the larger story of Americanization.

"You were able to signal that wonderful sense of being part of the larger society, and apart from it, at one and the same time," he says.

Just as with chocolate bunnies or Santas, a simple treat can be a passport to this history of belonging, and ritual, and nostalgia — no matter how the chocolate tastes.

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