Letters slain journalist Steven Sotloff wrote to his family before he was beheaded by Islamic State militants were read at his memorial service Friday, with him telling them to be happy and stay positive and that if they didn't meet again, he hoped they would in heaven.
Several hundred mourners attended the service at Temple Beth Am in suburban Miami, including Sen. Marco Rubio. He told the gathering that Sotloff unmasked "the nature of what we are dealing with" in final moments of his life.
"I'm so proud of my son for living his dream," Sotloff's mother, Shirley, told those in attendance at the Jewish Temple Beth Am.
"Most people live a lifetime and never find fulfillment," she added, remembering her 31-year-old son as inquisitive and outgoing as a child.
"I have lost my son and my best friend, but I know his passing will change the world," said Sotloff's father, Arthur, making his first public remarks since his son's death.
There was heavy security at the service, with officers stationed at the front gate and entrance of the building in Pinecrest.
The temple's executive director Robert Hersh said the service was arranged as quickly as possible, keeping with Jewish custom, even though Sotloff's body is not there.
"Our job is to help them grieve, and that's what we're here to do as a family," Hersh said before the service. He said the family will sit shiva, the Jewish mourning period, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Organizers distributed a sheet of paper with the lyrics to a song Sotloff's sister, Lauren Sotloff, had chosen – "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd.
Sotloff attended the temple school as a child, and his mother, Shirley Sotloff, teaches preschool there.
Sotloff, a 31-year-old who freelanced for Time and Foreign Policy magazines before he was captured in Syria a year ago, also was an Israeli citizen. That fact was not widely known before his death – in part because Israel's military censor apparently kept a lid on the story for his safety. His killers are not believed to have known about his background.
The Islamic State has beheaded two American journalists it held captive for what the militants called payback for more than 120 US airstrikes on its assets in northern Iraq since Aug. 8.
Journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff were two of what the State Department has described as "a few" Americans still being held hostage by the group. The Islamic State also had threatened to kill a British man it is holding hostage.
In a statement on Wednesday, a family spokesman said Sotloff dedicated his life to portraying the suffering of people in war zones, but was "no hero."
Family spokesman Barak Barfi told reporters gathered outside the family's suburban Miami home that Sotloff "tried to find good concealed in a world of darkness," and to give voice to the weak and suffering in the Arab world.
Barfi said Sotloff was "no war junkie," but was drawn to the stories of the turbulent Middle East, and his family has pledged to "not allow our enemies to hold us hostage with the sole weapon they possess – fear."