Until yesterday, the name, religion and other biographical details about 31-year-old U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff were a secret. Now, we can say openly that he was a Jew, an Israeli citizen, a spunky kid from Miami and a resilient believer in humanity.
After he was abducted a year ago in northern Syria, his family requested that details of his capture and of his identity be kept silent, in hopes that he would be released. But after a video documenting his beheading by Islamic State militants went public yesterday, no secrets need remain.
"Cleared for publication: Steven Sotloff was #Israel citizen RIP," tweeted Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.
Israeli media reports said Sotloff immigrated to Israel in 2005 and studied at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a private college near Tel Aviv.
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, quoting a former fellow hostage, said Sotloff had kept his Judaism a secret from his Islamist captors by pretending to be sick when he fasted for the Yom Kippur holiday.
Sotloff is also the grandson of Holocaust survivors. According to a report by the Daily Mail, his mother, Shirley Sotloff, who made a video shortly before his murder pleading for his release, is the daughter of two survivors.
Shirley Sotloff was also a preschool teacher at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, Fla., a Reform synagogue in South Miami where Sotloff attended day school. The family was an active part of the South Bay Jewish community. “Our hearts and prayers are with the Sotloff family,” said the condolence note on the Miami federation’s website.
Danielle Berrin, a reporter for the Jewish Journal in Los Angeles, posted a photo from her first grade class at Beth Am, where she was seated in the first row and Sotloff was standing in the row behind. She described Sotloff as a “goofy, smiley, playfully mischievous kid from Miami.”
While details about his proud Jewish identity continue to emerge, it is important to note that Sotloff wasn’t killed because he was a Jew. He was killed because he was an American.
In the video produced by ISIS insurgents, titled “A Second Message to American,” a masked fighter speaking in British-accented English — similar to the disguised person in the earlier video of journalist James Foley's beheading – declared, “I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State.”
The Sotloff video ends with the masked figure saying, “Just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”
Sotloff is not the first Jewish American Jewish journalist to be murdered abroad. Daniel Pearl, South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped by Pakistani militants in January 2002 and decapitated by Al-Qauda members nine days later. Born in New Jersey, Pearl was of Jewish Iraqi decent.
Steven Sotloff was a Jew, an Israeli and an American. He fell while trying to tell the stories of those less privileged. Despite inconceivable circumstances, his humanity prevailed. May his memory be a blessing.