Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By Shana Medel
Heritage Intern 

Candlelight vigil for fallen UCF Knight Steven Sotloff


Shana Medel

An outpouring of UCF students and community members circled the UCF's Reflecting Pond to pay tribute to Steven Sotloff, former UCF Knight beheaded by ISIS.

On Sep. 3, over 300 UCF Knights solemnly gathered around the heart of campus to mourn and honor Steven Joel Sotloff-a freelance journalist who was murdered in cold-blood by the extremist group ISIS.

The 31-year-old Miami native attended UCF from 2002-2004 and worked as a senior staff writer for The Central Florida Future, UCF's independent newspaper. After making aliyah in 2005, he set out to earn his undergraduate degree at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya. Before he was kidnapped in northern Syria, Sotloff spent two years covering the Arab Spring and its tumultuous aftermath. He endangered his life in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Turkey in order to uncover injustice and report the truth in the Middle East. Sotloff also worked for a handful of media outlets, including both The Media Line and The Jerusalem Report.

Following his 2013 kidnapping, Sotloff was not seen or heard from until he appeared in ISIS' execution video of American journalist James Foley. While in the hands of his Muslim captors, Sotloff managed to conceal his Jewish heritage and his dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship; he secretly prayed in the direction of Jerusalem and even pretended to be ill in order to fast on Yom Kippur.

Only two weeks after Foley was beheaded, another horrific murder video was released to the public. "The same masked fighter with British-accented English who appeared in the video of Mr. Foley's beheading also appears beside Mr. Sotloff, asserting, 'I'm back, Obama, and I'm back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State,'" reported The New York Times. The Sunni extremist group claimed that the gruesome killing of Sotloff was carried out in response to U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in northern Iraq.

The following night, students, professors, and reporters illuminated the UCF Reflecting Pond with their lit candles as Rabbi Chaim Lipskier drew upon the words of the Torah to express the resemblance between the burning flame of the candle and the duty to be a light unto others. In Sotloff's memory, the UCF community and the international community should continuously strive to "uphold values and traditions," "raise awareness and alertness," as well as "be a voice for those who do not have one," said Rabbi Lipskier.

In times of happiness and in times of sorrow, Knights remember the UCF creed: Integrity, Scholarship, Community, Creativity, and Excellence. Especially in this type of situation-where there is no logical explanation or any sort of justification for the atrocities that have taken place-a tight-knitted community is extremely important. The candlelight vigil, hosted by UCF organizations such as the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the Syrian American Council, and the Gauntlet, drew in a crowd much bigger than expected, which "really says something about the heart of people at this university", said journalism Professor Rick Brunson.

Lora Abdulhau, a student at Valencia College, spoke about her family's escape from Syria two years ago. She expressed her desire to "finish what Steven started" by traveling back to Syria and working as a freelance journalist after she graduates college. As reporters were snapping pictures and readying their video cameras, she said: "Everyone wants something in life; I want to see the truth."


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