Nearly a thousand mourners gathered Friday for a memorial service for Steven Sotloff, the Pinecrest journalist whose murder was revealed earlier this week by Muslim militants in Syria, heard from a surprise speaker: Sotloff himself, in a letter smuggled out of captivity before his death.
“Please know I’m OK,” said Sotloff in the letter, which was written in May and slipped out by a former cell mate. “Live your life to the fullest and fight to be happy....
“Everyone has two lives. The second one begins when you realize you only have one.”
Sotloff, 31, was a freelance journalist covering the Middle East when he was kidnapped just inside Syria in August 2013. Except for a single phone call to his parents in December, he was never directly heard from again. On Tuesday, the fundamentalist Muslim militia Islamic State posted a video on the Internet showing his decapitation.
His letter, read aloud by a cousin, was a rare note of hope on an occasion marked by grief and bafflement at the violence and cruelty that runs loose in the world.
“Is there a sorrow greater than this?” Sotloff’s rabbi, Terry Bookman, asked the mourners as the service got under way. “We grieve for what may have been... for hopes thwarted... for challenges still unmet.”
Added Sotloff’s father, Arthur: “I know that his passing will change the world. He's in God's arms now. He's not suffering anymore.”
Halfway around the world, Arthur Sotloff’s prediction seemed to be coming true. In Wales, where NATO officials were conferring at a summit meeting, President Obama said the United States would join with nine other nations in a coalition to battle the Islamic State, the jihadist militia that killed Sotloff.
Sotloff, 31, was a freelance journalist covering the Middle East when he was kidnapped just inside Syria in August 2013. Except for a single phone call to his parents in December, he was never heard from again. On Tuesday, the fundamentalist Muslim militia Islamic State posted a video on the Internet showing his decapitation.
The Temple Beth Am synagogue was nearly filled to capacity as the service, open to the public, began at 1 p.m.
Crowds began arriving two hours earlier, and their numbers — combined with a huge contingent of journalists — slowed traffic near the synagogue to less than 10 mph.
Many of the mourners were clad head-to-toe in black, despite the oppressive heat. Predominantly middle-aged and older, they entered the synagogue silently and mostly with eyes downcast. Few of them wanted to talk to journalists; those who did expressed an ineffable sadness.
“I just hope he didn’t die in vain,” said one, Rona Kritzer of Miami, whose children went to pre-school with Sotloff.
Among the mourners were U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, former Gov. Charlie Crist and Gov. Rick Scott, who ordered flags in Florida lowered to half-staff on Friday.
The service took place near Temple Beth Am’s religious day school, which Sotloff attended as a child before going to boarding school in New Hampshire. Later, he spent three years at the University of Central Florida, pursuing a journalism degree for three years.
But after a trip to Israel, Sotloff dropped out of UCF and moved to Tel Aviv, where he enrolled at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a private college. He graduated in 2008 and started covering the Middle East’s hot spots.