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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – On the first night of Hanukkah, the first candle on the menorah at the Chabad Center of Kendall and Pinecrest burns not just as a symbol of the holiday, but as a tribute to murdered American journalist, Steven Sotloff.

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“He suffered and ultimately gave his life not because he was a Jew, but because he was an American,” Steven’s mother, Shirley Sotloff, said at the candle-lighting ceremony Tuesday night.

Click here to watch Lauren Pastrana’s report.

Steven Sotloff was freelancing for Time Magazine in Syria when he was kidnapped by ISIS terrorists in August 2013.

This past summer, his mother begged for his release.

“I ask you to use your authority to spare his life,” she asked in a message to his captors.

Instead, the 31-year-old South Florida native was beheaded. His killing was captured on video and published for the world to see.

“Those who were imprisoned with him in those dark cells far from the freedoms we enjoy here told us that Steven’s faith helped him cope with a punishment that was not his own making,” Shirley Sotloff said.

Shirley and her husband Arthur lit the first candle of the menorah at the Chabad Center of Kendall/Pinecrest on Tuesday.

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It was a time for celebration in the wake of so much pain.

“That is the worst thing you can do is lose a child. You have to be strong,” said David Mermelstein, a longtime friend of the Sotloff family.

“The message of Hanukkah is that a little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness,” Rabbi Yossi Harlig said.

Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Light. Sotloff’s mother wants everyone to remember her son for the legacy of light he left behind.

“Let us not grieve, but rejoice in our people’s freedom, and triumph over our enemies and the evil that continues to exist in this world,” she said.

The event marked Sotloff’s first public remarks since her son’s death.

Shirley Sotloff encouraged people to support the foundation created in her son’s memory. The “2 Lives: Steven Joel Sotloff Memorial Foundation” will provide scholarships to journalism and liberal arts students who wish to tell stories from areas torn apart by conflict.

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Lauren Pastrana