“The presentation was great – a perfect balance between math, Jewish teachings, and fun!” — Rachel Biale, Program Director for New Lehrhaus (The Bay Area Hub for Adult Jewish Learning)
“His talk was both meaningful and accessible. All who were present had an uplifting and thought-provoking opportunity to learn. And on top of that, we all laughed with Dr. Lesser a great deal.” — R. Ben Zeidman, Temple Mount Sinai
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: On connections between Judaism and math, Dr. Larry Lesser has written several articles and co-led an international funded speaker series (for which he gave the opening talk and moderated the others). His ongoing, somewhat unconventional journey spans nearly every stream of Judaism, helping him engage diverse audiences and even yielding an award-winning Jewish album.
An award-winning Professor at UT-El Paso (same 31.76oN latitude as Jerusalem!) since 2004, Dr. Lesser has published research in top journals in statistics/math education. He served as a supporting faculty member throughout the respective periods of existence of the UTEP Inter-American Jewish Studies Program (2005-2018) and Jewish Education El Paso (2009-2012), and several of his 130 scholarly papers connect math/statistics with Judaism (which his college highlighted in 2023). This led to co-writing a competitively-selected proposal for the international speaker series “Higher Meanings: Exploring Connections Between Religion and Mathematics“, for the national Scientists in Synagogues program funded by Sinai and Synapses (supported by CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, the John Templeton Foundation, and individual donors, in consultation with the DoSER program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific society). Lesser gave the opening presentation (on infinity, viewable here or here, and later reprised for U. of Maryland’s KEDMA and for the Bay Area’s New Lehrhaus) and moderated the subsequent presentations (with transcripts and speaker papers). This series yielded coverage on TV (e.g., ABC-affiliate KVIA), radio (e.g., NPR station KTEP-FM), print media, blogposts/e-blasts, a podcast, newsletter blurb, a conference presentation, and a 21-page piece in an international peer-reviewed journal.
In 2006, he published in Journal of Mathematics and Culture (JMC) the first juried comprehensive classroom-oriented article on Jewish mathematics, based on his curriculum integration teaching math at a non-denominational Jewish high school. The article gives scholarly background and classroom-tested examples going beyond gematria to include counting, infinity, pi, mathematical modeling, geometry, logic, and connections to Jewish text/customs, which connected to school experiences and helped engage students. Lesser published a second paper (with a randomized experiment) and both JMC papers are also in the book Culture that Counts. Lesser is now exploring (with MTA’s Sigal Levy and Yelena Stukalin) related research on statistics curriculum. Other papers (besides the 2022 speaker series piece mentioned above) include a short Pi Day piece in The Jewish Educator, a 2015 paper in Teaching for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics that explores language/culture parallels between math education and Judaism, and a contribution to the 2015 ethics module commissioned by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. (Lesser has also enjoyed creating curriculum highlighting other cultures, such as this award-winning lesson.)
Lesser draws from multiple intersecting identities to make material engaging and accessible for audiences of varied (religious or mathematical) backgrounds. In addition to the funded 2021 speaker series mentioned above, he has also given presentations and performances connecting Judaism to Aesop’s fables and opened (see video) the March 27-28, 2023 world premiere of the associated opera The Fox and the Cookie by Opera UTEP. He has also done presentations/performances at events such as the 2023 Jewish Food Festival and for UTEP Religious Studies with his original Jewish songs based on Jewish text/culture, especially from his album SPARKS, a Finalist for Best Album in the 2021 New Mexico Music Awards (and winner of Best Humorous Song), with its approach yielding articles in international journals (NewCAJE The Jewish Educator and The Israeli Journal of Humor Research) and a video that debuted at the 33rd annual conference of The Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies. Such experiences led to his being named (one of 46 from 200+ applications worldwide) a 2021 Jewish Wisdom Fellow by Hadar.
Since 1997, Lesser has used his award-winning pedagogical skills to give (for varied multi-congregational settings, audiences, and formats) engaging interactive math-and-Judaism presentations for the International ALEPH Kallah, citywide Yom Limmud or Tikkun Leil Shavuot events (e.g., Houston, El Paso), individual congregations (from Modern Orthodox to post-denominational; for example, here), pluralistic day schools or Sunday schools (e.g., Ft. Collins, El Paso, Houston, Albuquerque, Austin). Talks have included: “How We Count” (how Jewish values are embedded in how Jews count days, pages, people, etc.), “Lots and Lotteries” (Jewish texts and views on chance — from ancient to modern), and “Who is Wise?” (secular and Jewish perspectives on wisdom). He has done board service for multiple congregations, written dozens of Jewish community newspaper columns (and recently himself interviewed), and was recently interviewed about Chanukah on an NPR-station and about Crypto Jews on a podcast.