Steven Sotloff's father says son's passing 'will change the world'

Family, friends memorialize Pinecrest journalist killed by ISIS

By Roger Lohse , Glenna Milberg - Reporter , Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor

PINECREST, Fla. - A memorial service was held Friday for the South Florida journalist who was beheaded by the Islamic State group ISIS.

The public service for Steven Sotloff began at 1 p.m. at Temple Beth Am on Southwest 88th Street.

Local 10 News reporter, Glenna Milberg, attended the service and said Sotloff's father, Arthur Sotloff spoke briefly, breaking the collective silence in the congregation.

"I have lost my son and my best friend, but I know his passing will change the world," said Art Sotloff.

Steven's sister, Lauren, also spoke.

"To this day, music reminds me of you and our special bond," said Lauren before her boyfriend held up his cellphone to the microphone and played Pink Floyd's "Wish you were here".

Sotloff, who freelanced for Time and Foreign Policy magazines, had last been seen in Syria in August 2013 until he appeared in a video released online last month by the Islamic State group that showed the beheading of fellow American journalist James Foley.

Dressed in an orange jumpsuit against the backdrop of an arid Syrian landscape, Sotloff was threatened in that video with death unless the U.S. stopped airstrikes on the group in Iraq.

In the video entitled "A Second Message to America," Sotloff appears in a similar jumpsuit before he is beheaded by a masked Islamic State fighter.

Sotloff spoke to the camera before his execution, saying he is "paying the price" for U.S. intervention.

During Friday's service a letter from Steven was read aloud, which he had smuggled out during his captivity in May.

"Do what makes you happy, be where you are happy," wrote Sotloff. "Don't fight over nonsense. Surround yourself with strong, wise people."

Another part of the letter stated, "Please know that I am OK. Live your lives to the fullest. Stay positive and patient. If we're not together again, perhaps God will be merciful enough to reunite us in heaven."

The Miami-Dade police bomb squad was at the high-profile memorial service as a precaution. Officers from law enforcement agencies as far as Palm Beach County directed traffic and searched cars as they entered the temple.

"The irony is that he went to the Middle East to tell the story that these are not our enemies -- these are human beings," said Rabbi Terry Bookman.

Bookman had known Sotloff since he was a grade schooler at the temple. Bookman is both a friend and spiritual advisor to Sotloff's parents. He told Local 10 News reporter Roger Lohse that he often counseled their son before his trips to cover the war-torn Middle East. Bookman said the Middle East was a place where Sotloff felt safe.

"He felt that because he learned how to speak Arabic and because of who he was, he knew how to get in and out of trouble -- and I think he felt that way here, too," said Bookman. "I believe that he thought he was going to be released and see his family again."

Bookman said last week's public plea by Shirley Sotloff to her son's ISIS captors followed a year of trying to keep his kidnapping low profile. He said the family worked with newspapers and TV networks behind the scenes to erase any online reference to his Jewish faith.

Bookman said the videotape message was a carefully worded plea to ISIS leaders to follow their Islamic principles and temper justice with mercy.

"Unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears because we're dealing with a level of violence and inhumanity that I don't think we've seen for sometime in our world," said Bookman.

As many as 1,000 mourners attended Friday's service, many who whom didn't know Sotloff. Sotloff was a man who his rabbi said had great respect for Islam and only wanted his words and pictures to build a bridge between ideologies.

"They destroyed somebody who could have been a friend," said Bookman.

Friday's service ended with the congregation standing for Kaddish, a traditional Jewish prayer for the deceased. Taken literally, it is a celebration of life.

Follow Roger Lohse on Twitter @RogerLohse

Follow Glenna Milberg on Twitter @GlennaOn10

Follow Local 10 News on Twitter @WPLGLocal10

Sotloff Memorial

Copyright 2014 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.