Alumni Spotlight | Yaron Butterfield
In my last blog, I talked about my experience in 1997 in a beautiful program called Livnot U’Lehibanot based in Tsfat, Israel. As part of the program (T52), we spent time in the community helping the elderly, excavating, painting, cleaning and improving housing, and various types of volunteer work. Mid-way through the program, our group was approached by a woman, Shirel Levine. She took us to a memorial garden in honor of her son Steven. Steven Levine, who played hockey in New York, passed away of cancer at a young age of 26. With the memorial garden having been neglected over the years, Shirel asked if perhaps our Livnot group could do a mural on the wall facing the garden, exemplifying the many qualities of her son. I was thrilled to learn that he was a passionate ice hockey player like me and as an artist, I jumped at this opportunity. After meeting Shirel and learning more about Steven and his interests and qualities, myself and another participant, Alexandra put together a design. After we met with Shirel’s approval, we got started creating the mural and over a few weeks, our fellow ‘chevre’ joined in.
The painting contained a blessing from the Torah: “‘Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed–to you it shall be for food” (1:29), which Shirel chose for the mural. Her son was very handsome, charismatic and a successful stockbroker. I was very excited to paint the hockey player shooting the puck up high. When we were finished, as a token of thanks, Shirel gave me a trophy that Steven had won as a player and a puck that he had played with.
When I got back to Vancouver in the fall of 1998, after a year being off the ice, I was concerned that I might have trouble skating or at least not be in my old form. As I missed it so much, just a few days after I got back, I took my stick and skates and Steven’s puck and skated at the local rink. I felt like I still had my touch. It felt magical to shoot the puck that Steven had played with.
I continued to play hockey over the years since, and a day and a half after the best game I ever had, right beside the shelf where Steven’s trophy sat in my bedroom, I had a grand mal seizure and subsequently diagnosed with brain cancer. That was in 2004. In addition to much support from family and friends, Shirel wrote to me: “There was something so strange about your connection with Steven, hockey, and now cancer. I don’t know what it means or what anything means but I just know it was a shock and felt eerie… I just know you’re like Steven was – very positive and very courageous. Don’t be anything but hopeful and brave. Steven believed he would make it and that’s what he was focusing on. Even his doctor recently wrote to me about how special and courageous and productive he was during his treatment.” This gave me so much courage and will to survive.
In my 2014 trip to Israel, Shirel, knowing I was in Israel again, asked if I would be willing to update and repaint the mural. Over the years, much has faded or has become damaged. Ironically, the day I got into Tsfat was Steven’s (z’l) anniversary along with my first day of the 1 week Livnot program. On that evening, I brought the group to the garden. During the week Livnot volunteers helped me redo the mural.
If you ever find yourself in Tsfat, make sure to go to Rechov Bar Yochai (26-28) in the old city. Spend a few moments at this special garden oasis, celebrating Steven’s spirit.