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'Celebrating His Life': Slain Journalist Steven Sotloff Honored

About 1,000 people were expected to fill Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest to pay the respects to Steven Sotloff, 31, who was beheaded by ISIS militants.
Image: American journalist Steven Sotloff
American journalist Steven Sotloff, center in black helmet, talks to Libyan rebels on the Al Dafniya frontline in 2011 in Misrata, Libya. Getty Images, file

Family, friends and those who were inspired by Steven Sotloff gathered in a Florida synagogue Friday to honor the slain journalist — remembering not how the reporter met his end, but the fearlessness that he showed in life.

“I'm so proud of my son for living his dream,” his mother, Shirley, said during the service.

More than 700 people attended the memorial at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest to pay their respects to Sotloff, 31, who was held captive for by ISIS militants in Syria for a year and beheaded in a video released Tuesday. Sotloff was a Miami-area native who freelanced for TIME and Foreign Policy magazines.

"I have lost my son and best friend, but I know his passing will change the world,” Sotloff’s father, Arthur, said. He added, “I want to speak from my heart, but my heart is broken.”

"We are celebrating his life today; this is not, so much, a mourning of his death," said Temple Beth Am's Executive Director Robert Hersh before the service. Sotloff attended the temple's elementary school, and his mother works as a teacher there, according to The Associated Press.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, former Gov. Charlie Crist and Sen. Marco Rubio all attended the service, NBC South Florida reported. "Steven was committed to the truth. He didn't just become a journalist; he became one in the most dangerous place on earth. It is appropriate and ironic that he revealed true evil,” Rubio said.

Scott directed all flags throughout the state to be flown at half-staff Friday in honor of Sotloff.

“Even though we are aware of the geopolitical circumstances of why we are here … let us not forget, there is a family devastated by this loss,” said Temple Beth Am Rabbi Terry Bookman, who presided over the service.

A sheet printed with lyrics from the song “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd was handed out to guests. “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year … wish you were here,” reads part of the song. Sotloff’s sister, Lauren, chose the song.

Lauren read a letter she had written to her brother, even though she shared beforehand that she didn’t know if she would have the strength to speak.

In the letter, Lauren said music reminded her of the “special bond” she shared with her brother because of times they spent together at concerts. Those memories were special, Lauren said, because the two didn’t get much time together since Sotloff was often traveling.

“Though I miss you, you are my hero because you learned to write and had your voice heard,” Lauren read from the letter.

Rabbi Bookman said the journalist’s death at the hands of ISIS was ironic since Sotloff was passionate about reporting in a way that helped people to understand the conflicts in the Middle East. “He saw no barriers between himself and those that he covered,” Bookman said.

Sotloff was seen, for the first time since vanishing, in a video that ISIS released showing the beheading of journalist James Foley. The militant group said the killings were in retaliation for airstrikes ordered against them by the U.S., and have threatened to kill a British man they are also holding hostage.

Parts of letters that Sotloff wrote while he was in captivity and had smuggled to his family were also read out loud. “If we're not together again, maybe God will be merciful and put us together in heaven,” one said.