Hundreds of people gathered at Chabad of Kendall & Pinecrest in Miami on Tuesday night to usher in the first night of Chanukah, and to honor a native son and journalist who was killed at the hands of the ISIS terror group in Iraq.
Steven Sotloff, 31, was abducted near Aleppo, Syria in August 2013 by ISIS. The world learned of his murder after graphic video was released by ISIS on Sept. 2.
To honor Sotloff’s memory, Rabbi Yossi Harlig—co-director of Chabad of Kendall & Pinecrest with his wife, Nechama—asked Sotloff’s parents, Arthur and Shirley, to light the menorah on the first night of Chanukah.
“Like many Jews in history, [my son] was forced to conceal his Judaism,” Shirley Sotloff said at the ceremony. “But this did not prevent him from practicing his faith. Steve letG‑d in during his greatest tribulation. Those who were imprisoned with him in those dark cells far from the freedoms we enjoy here, told us that Steve’s faith helped him cope with a punishment that was not his own making.
“As we light the menorah on this day,” she continued, “we are proud to declare our Judaism in a land that allows us to freely practice our faith. Let us not grieve but rejoice in our people’s freedoms, and triumph over our enemies and the evil that continues to exist in this world.”
Her address was the first time she has spoken publicly about her son since a September memorial in Miami a few days after the news of his death. Since then, the Sotloffs have created the 2Lives Foundation (www.2livesfoundation.org) in Steven Sotloff’s memory to provide scholarships for journalism and liberal-arts students who want to follow in his footsteps, and tell the stories of people in conflict-torn regions around the world.
Harlig also addressed the crowd, noting that through his work, Sotloff sought to educate people about the injustices around the world.
The rabbi also read a letter penned in 1980 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—which resonates just as strongly today as it did then.
The celebration of Chanukah, which commemorates the Jewish triumph over their enemy, “is a symbol and message of the triumph of freedom over oppression, of spirit over matter, of light over darkness.
“It is a timely and reassuring messages, for the forces of darkness are ever present,” according to the letter. “ … darkness is not chased away by brooms and sticks, but by illumination. Our Sages say, ‘a little light expels a lot of darkness.’ ”
Before the menorah-lighting, David Mermelstein—a Holocaust survivor and longtime friend of Sotloff’s grandparents, also survivors—was handed the torch and walked through the crowd, giving everyone a chance to touch it. Then, Shirley Sotloff grasped the torch to light the shamash (the helper candle), and handed it over to her husband so he could light the first candle.
Those present seemed visibly moved by Arthur Sotloff’s emotional expression afterwards.
“Steven’s death really impacted this community when the news first came out,” said Rabbi Harlig, “and so it was good to come together and celebrate Chanukah with his family, and remember their son in a very positive way.”