PINECREST, Fla. — Letters that 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.

“Please know I am OK,” he wrote. “I love you, miss you, pray for you and hope to see you soon.”

In a service punctuated by tears, Sotloff’s parents, sister and friends spoke of his gentle demeanor and unwavering commitment as a journalist toward putting a face on suffering in the Arab world, despite the personal risks.

“I’m so proud of my son for living his dream,” said his mother, Shirley Sotloff.

Her husband and Steven Sotloff’s father, Arthur Sotloff, wiped tears from his face after she spoke and then took the microphone.

“I want to speak from my heart,” he said, his voice quiet and solemn. “But my heart is broken.”

Several hundred mourners dressed in black gathered for the service at Temple Beth Am in suburban Miami, where Sotloff’s mother teaches and he attended school as a child. There was heavy security, with officers stationed at the front gate and entrance of the building in Pinecrest.

Robert Hersh, the temple’s executive director, said the service was arranged as quickly as possible, in keeping with Jewish custom, even though Sotloff’s body is not there.

The family will sit shiva, the Jewish mourning period, beginning Saturday.

“Our job is to help them grieve, and that’s what we’re here to do as a family,” he said.

Several dignitaries were in the audience, including Sen. Marco Rubio. He told the gathering that Sotloff unmasked “the true nature of what we are dealing with” in the final moments of his life, and seemed to suggest more should be done.

“I hope that in so doing, has woken us up as a people and a world to confront it and defeat it before it’s too late,” Rubio said.

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 it secret for his safety.

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