Learning with a 5th Grader

Last week my Middle Son was learning about resistance during the Shoa (the Holocaust). One of the ways Jews kept up their spiritual resistance to the Nazis was by reciting the “Ani Ma’amin”. Gail posted a translation of the phrase and mentioned use of this phrase in the Shoa, which gave me the idea for this post.

This is the phrase in the original Hebrew:

אני מאמין באמונה שלמה בביאת המשיח ואע"פ שיתמהמה, עם כל זה אחכה לו בכל יום שיבוא

This is the 12th of the Rambam‘s 13 Principles of Faith. (thanks, LOZ)

So, getting back to Middle Son: he had a vocabulary test last week. I often help him study for Hebrew tests, because I really enjoy learning along with him. My husband studies with him on his Mishneh, social studies, science, and other tests. His Hebrew teacher is definitely his most challenging teacher.

One of the words on his test was: יתמהמה
Transliteration: yitmameihah
Say that ten times fast. “yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah ”
Hard, no?
Now what happens if the teacher gives you the following as a translation for the strange word “yitmameihah”, and you are a 5th grader with a 5th grade vocabulary:
(other translations say “linger” or “tarry”)

So my son did not know what “procrastinate” meant. So I came up with some explanation, something about delaying something happening and continued to test him, alternatively asking him the Hebrew or the English word. He had a very difficult time with this word.

So I told him:
In Hebrew, the roots of a word are often only three letters. This is an exception word, one that has a seemingly two letter root (mem being the first and heh being the second), and the root is doubled, thus “mem-heh-mem-heh”. A similar word might be wheel: galgal. The “yit” part of “yitmameihah” means that it is hitpael, or a reflexive verb, one that is done to oneself. I was hoping that by breaking down the word into its parts, he might be able to remember it.

No such luck. On Friday afternoon, after the test was over and he was home, I asked him how he did on the test. “Good,” he replied. I believe him. He usually knows.

“How do you say ‘procrastinate’ ?” I quizzed him.
I got some garbled answer that sounded sort of like a distance relative of “yitmameihah”.
Oh, well.

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