Arthur Sotloff, father of slain journalist Steven Sotloff..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LOS ANGELES – Around 60 people attended a small but intimate memorial in Beverly Hills to honor slain Israeli- American journalist Steven Sotloff. The Orthodox synagogue of Young Israel of North Beverly Hills hastily pulled the event together to coincide with the 13th anniversary of 9/11.
In honoring the 31-year-old whom Islamic State recently beheaded following 13 months of captivity, Thursday night’s began predictably, with a handful of mournful performances by a hazzan and his choir, speeches from local dignitaries, and the lighting of memorial candles.
Then Sotloff’s father, Art, speaking live via Skype hookup from his home in Miami, took center stage.
In remarks both riveting and harrowing, Art Sotloff’s live conversation was hosted by Felice Friedson of The Media Line. Steven Sotloff freelanced for the news outlet and Friedson was his mentor.
Art Sotloff began by speaking of his son’s love for reading as a small child and his desire to see the Seven Wonders of the World. But when asked to talk about the rumors on the Internet that Steven had converted to Islam, he let out a deep sigh.
“You know, I’m still breathing and it’s only been a couple of days and this has been very difficult for me,” he said.
Regaining his composure, he spoke of how he had met and spoken with several of those who had been in captivity with Steven but had then been released. “One of the things that they did mention was that his religion was very, very important,” Art said. “I think they tried to force some of the captives to convert, but he never did, and he kept his secret [that he was a Jew] among one or two of the other captives and they told us that he would pray every night.”
And then, Art Sotloff stopped in his tracks. “I really can’t do this,” he said. “I’m very sorry. I can’t do this. It’s too soon.”
He tried, once more, to speak of his son’s legacy, saying, “I want to make sure that what [Steven’s] given of his life needlessly to maybe try to help other journalists, to maybe get a good education. I don’t know... ” At that point he passed the microphone to family spokesman and Sotloff’s best friend Barak Barfi, but his sobs could be heard in the background.
Barfi spoke of Steven’s desire to “give a voice to those who had no voice. He did a Birthright trip to Israel and he fell in love with what he saw. He said, ‘This is what I want to do. This is my passion.’” Barfi called on the Jewish community to help the Sotloff family. “These last 13 months have been very difficult...[They] have spent a lot of time and resources to try and find Steven,” he said. “The family is really alone right now with no one to reach out to. We’re hoping the Jewish community can be there now and pick up this family in these tough times.”
Yehuda Pearl – father of Israeli- American journalist Daniel Pearl who was decapitated by al-Qaida in Pakistan in 2002 – sent a letter that read in part, “We send our deepest condolences to the family of Steven Sotloff. We know too well the pain of loss. Once again the world has seen the horror of terrorism in action. We continue to find strength in the belief that united civilization will triumph and humanity will prevail.”
Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, spoke of how Sotloff and James Foley (beheaded by Islamic State two weeks earlier) “rushed into the most dangerous places in the world to do their jobs just like the first-responders...who gave their lives 13 years ago running into the World Trade Center towers.”
Bosse added that while she never met Sotloff, “I know in my heart he was working in honor of his grandparents [who were Holocaust survivors], my parents, and all those who didn’t have a voice and did not survive.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said terrorists had no idea that Sotloff and Foley’s murders “would be another 9/11 moment that awakened the conscience of the entire world to the threat posed by ISIS.
“Sometimes, at crucial moments, ordinary people become the vehicle for transmitting messages with great consequences for the future of the entire world,” Hier said.