The memorial service for Stevan Jay Schoen at B’nai Israel synagogue was not a typical Jewish funeral. It was fitting for Stevan, who was an exceptional man.
A traditional Jewish funeral is held within 24 hours of the death, followed by a seven-day period of mourning at home by the immediate family. After Stevan died of a heart attack at his Placitas home on September 9, his body was flown to New Jersey for burial in a family plot. The High Holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur delayed this memorial service for family, friends and colleagues in New Mexico.
Rabbi Arthur Flicker opened the service saying, “The Jewish people respond to death by saying ‘Praised is the Judge of Truth.’ Mourning is a difficult time of emotions, both bitter and sweet.”
The rabbi incorporated a theme of lawyers and judges in his remarks, appropriate for a man who was well-respected in the legal community. The presence of a State Court of Appeals judge, two District Court judges, and several assistant U.S. attorneys testified to their esteem for Judge Stevan Schoen.
The rabbi recited Psalm 15, A Psalm of David:
O Lord, who may abide in your sanctuary?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
He also made reference to the poetry of the High Holiday liturgy that reminds us of our mortality:
Man’s origin is dust, and dust is his end.
Each of us is a shattered urn, grass that must wither,
a flower that will fade, a shadow moving on,
a cloud passing by, a particle of dust floating on the wind,
a dream soon forgotten.
But God is eternal, and God’s compassion is everlasting.
“Steve was known as a negotiator, not a litigator,” said the rabbi. He spoke of how Stevan came to New Mexico as a Vista volunteer in 1969. This enchanting state pulled him back to live here for 42 years as a champion devoted to fighting poverty. He served as an attorney for the New Mexico Department of Human Services and became well-known as a probate and real estate lawyer.
He served as the Sandoval County Probate Judge from 1991 to 1998. During this time he was president of the Probate Judges Association for the State of New Mexico, and had a major role in the training of the state’s 33 county probate judges. He also served on numerous boards of community organizations. He took great pleasure in his public service to local schools, the Placitas Volunteer Fire Brigade, and on committees serving the New Mexico State Supreme Court.
But his greatest treasure and accomplishment was his family: wife Cynthia and his children Andrew and Anna.
Son Andrew spoke about how Stevan was a generous, gentle, intelligent, sensitive and giving man. One of his earliest memories of his father was being wrapped in a blanket and taken outside in the middle of the night to look at the stars while he sang Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. “My father was a light for me,” said Andrew. “He loved me and was deeply proud of me.”
Wife Cynthia said that Stevan’s father had died when he was 13 and his mother when he was 18. “He knew that life was incredibly short,” she said. “There’s no time to fight, no time to do anything but what you really want to do. As Steve Jobs said, live your life.”
The rabbi invited attendees to a dessert reception in the social hall of the synagogue. There, a box with cards was provided so people could write and share their memories, jokes, and stories about Stevan. It was also an opportunity to meet with the family and share hugs and spoken words.
The service concluded with the two prayers said at every Jewish funeral, El Malei Rachamim, Source of Mercy, and The Mourner’s Kaddish, which makes no mention of death but affirms life.
Here’s a moving translation of the El Malei Rachamim prayer, taken from Kol Haneshama:
God filled with mercy,
dwelling in the heavens’ heights,
bring proper rest
beneath the wings of your Shekhinah, (feminine presence of God)
amid the ranks of the holy and the pure,
illuminating like the brilliance of the skies
the souls of our beloved and our blameless
who went to their eternal place of rest.
May you who are the source of mercy
shelter them beneath your wings eternally,
and bind their souls among the living,
that they may rest in peace.
And let us say: Amen
Stevan Jay Schoen, may your memory always be a blessing.