Miami-Dade County

Spirit of Steven Sotloff, beheaded by ISIS, lives on in South Florida art

CELEBRATING A LIFE: Gerald Greenspoon, Ellen Greenspoon, Shirley Sotloff, Lauren Sotloff and Arthur Sotloff pose in front of artist Tracy Ellen’s tribute to Steven Sotloff.
CELEBRATING A LIFE: Gerald Greenspoon, Ellen Greenspoon, Shirley Sotloff, Lauren Sotloff and Arthur Sotloff pose in front of artist Tracy Ellen’s tribute to Steven Sotloff. ANDREW MILNE 2015

Tracy Ellyn couldn’t stop crying.

The beheading of suburban Miami native and freelance journalist Steven Joel Sotloff by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria haunted her.

“I was deeply affected,’’ said Ellyn, an accomplished Miami artist and former fashion designer who confided in her friend Rachelle Nelson, the cantor at the Sotloff family’s synagogue in Pinecrest.

“Throw it into your art!” Nelson implored Ellyn, a Temple Beth Am member who had never met the Sotloffs.

With art supplies in hand just two days after the Sept. 2, 2014, brutal murder by ISIS was videotaped for the world to see, Ellyn began her quest for serenity with ferocious abandon.

“It came out of me like a flood of water.”

The result of her anguish: a vibrant, colorful mixed-media piece that stands nearly five feet tall, has embedded in its imagery key phrases from a Sotloff letter smuggled out while he was captive in Syria for 13 months, and is being used to help promote his family’s 2Lives Steven Joel Sotloff Memorial Foundation.

Entitled “Seeds: In Memory of Steven Sotloff,’’ the piece depicts a newly sprouted garden and was unveiled May 12 — a day after what would have been Sotloff’s 32nd birthday — during the opening of the Greenspoon Marder Law Foundation Community Arts Partnership.

The artwork is done in layers of drawings, watercolor paint, black ink, colored pencils and writings that are imbedded into metal only a millimeter thick. The piece is literally and figuratively not as “heavy’’ as most memorials, Ellyn said. It is being displayed indefinitely on the 18th floor of the law firm’s Fort Lauderdale office on Broward Boulevard.

“The story of Steven is heavy enough,’’ Ellyn said.

Attorney and law firm co-founder Gerald Greenspoon, known for his philanthropy, is, like Sotloff’s mother, the child of Holocaust survivors. He said he and the Sotloffs shed tears together during a private meeting the night of the art unveiling.

Greenspoon, 64, described his first sight of the artwork as “an Oh-My-God-moment.’’

“A very moving piece,’’ Greenspoon said. “It’s a horrific event that occurred, but unfortunately, it’s a reality of our times.

“I was filled with emotion.”

So, too, were Sotloff’s parents, Arthur and Shirley, who are still trying to cope nearly nine months later. For a family that has endured so much, it was, in the end, a rare opportunity to smile.

“A lot of the things in his letter were in the picture,” Arthur Sotloff, 67, told the Miami Herald. “His quotes, what he sent to us, I found that to be very warming and touching.

“The last letter we received was his last will and testament. He knew he wasn’t coming out. He told us that we should find closure, that we should hug each other every day.

“We’re not able to have a minute’s worth of peace without thinking of him — positive or negative.”

Sotloff, who chronicled the plight of everyday people living through the Middle East crises, wrote the phrases included in the artwork. “Do what makes you happy,” he said. “Be where you are happy. Love and respect each other. Don’t fight over nonsense. Hug each other every day. Eat dinner together. Stay positive and be patient.”

The art contains no likeness of Sotloff but symbolizes his quest for peace. The Dome of the Rock, a sacred destination for Muslims, Jews and Christians, is in the background, with the Sim Shalom (“Grant Peace”) prayer written in Hebrew in the Jerusalem sky. The pomegranates and their seeds symbolize life, Israel and the Middle East.

“The story of Steven Sotloff’s life and work are so important to keep alive,’’ said Ellyn, who plans to produce three “duplicate originals” for Sotloff’s synagogue and yet-to-be determined spots in Washington, D.C., and New York. “Every time I turned on the TV you couldn’t escape the image of Steven in the orange jumpsuit a minute before his death. The only way I could handle it as an artist was to draw it out.”

Arthur Sotloff said his son’s words to them were “a blueprint for the way he wanted us to live our lives. My wife and I want to make a difference in the world in Steven’s name and build a legacy for him so nobody forgets.”

The 2Lives Foundation will grant scholarships in memory of Sotloff “for journalism and liberal arts students who want to pursue careers in journalism and tell the stories of people in conflict-torn regions around the world.”

Sotloff, who went to Israel after 2½ years at the University of Central Florida, fell in love with the country during a college trip there and finished his studies there while becoming a dual citizen — though he hid that and his Jewish faith from his ISIS captors.

“Everyone has two lives. The second one begins when you realize that you only have one,” Sotloff wrote in one of the letters smuggled out, his father said, by hostages “that were released because their countries were responsible enough to pay a ransom to get their kids back.”

“Yes, the 2Lives Foundation is for scholarships for journalists like him, but we also want to try to help families like ourselves that didn’t have the opportunity and resources to save our kids,” he said.

Sotloff will be honored June 8 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., where a new section features stories and other items related to Sotloff and fellow journalists who were murdered or kidnapped by ISIS terrorists.

To learn more about Sotloff’s life and the foundation in his memory, go to

Said Arthur Sotloff: “This should never happen to anyone’s child.”

Arts Partnership

What: The artwork dedicated to the life of murdered journalist Steven Sotloff, and dozens of other unrelated pieces of art, are being displayed indefinitely on four floors of Greenspoon Marder Law at 200 E. Broward Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.

The law firm unveiled in May its Greenspoon Marder Foundation’s Community Arts Partnership, which has named 10 community agencies that help those in need.

Most of the displayed pieces were done by clients of the partnered agencies, and nearly all are for sale, with 100 percent of the proceeds given back to the charities.

The organizations: Young at Art, Here’s Help, Casa Valentina, Ann Storck Center, LifeQuest Foundation, ARC Broward, Dan Marino Foundation, Zen Tov Project, Fund 4 Design & Art Education and the 2Lives Steven Joel Sotloff Memorial Foundation.

The Steven Sotloff memorial piece, done by professional artist Tracy Ellyn of Miami, is for display only.

Information: The public can view the art by calling 954-491-1120 and setting up a tour through the marketing department. A website,, showing the artwork and corresponding prices will soon be online.

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