Uniting in faith: A Princeton rabbi responds to Tsurkov abduction

Rabbi Eitan Webb provides guidance and support to students and faculty impacted by kidnapping of Israeli researcher in Iraq, which has brought grief and anguish to the Jewish community in Princeton

Rabbi Eitan Webb|
Recently, our community in Princeton was deeply shaken by the news of a kidnapping halfway around the world. Elizabeth Tsurkov, a brilliant graduate student and member of Princeton University’s Jewish community, was abducted in Iraq in March 2023 by members of a Shiite militant group believed to be linked to Iran.
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As a Princeton University Chaplain and a leader of the Jewish community on campus, I have been providing guidance and support to students and faculty who have been impacted by the incident. Through conversations with Elizabeth’s friends and colleagues, I have learned of her stellar character and commitment to advancing human rights all over the world. She is described by many as intelligent, principled, and passionate about standing up for what’s right.
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אליזבט צורקוב
אליזבט צורקוב
Elizabeth Tsurkov
(Photo: AFP PHOTO / Ahmad Mohamad)
Elizabeth was in Baghdad conducting research for her doctoral dissertation when she was captured. She was there as a researcher whose work would benefit others, yet she now faces a terrifying situation. I can only begin to imagine the fear, pain, and longing she must be experiencing to be reunited with her loved ones. The impact of her abduction has brought grief and anguish to the Jewish community in Princeton and we must galvanize ourselves to be strong in the face of such a despicable act.
There is a positive commandment in the Torah, known as Pidyon Shvuyim, to exert all energies to work toward the release of a fellow Jew in captivity. Pidyon Shvuyim is one of the few mitzvot called a “mitzvah rabah” or “great deed,” and Maimonides, in emphasizing its importance, stated that “there is no greater mitzvah than the redemption of captives.”
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Rabbi Eitan Webb
Rabbi Eitan Webb
Rabbi Eitan Webb
(Photo: Courtesy)
The Torah teaches us about the tremendous power that good deeds and acts of kindness have in impacting the world. It is taught that every small act we do has ripples that affect not only one's immediate surroundings, but the world at large. To impact this situation for the good, we must unite with others in performing acts of kindness and tzedakah, and in doing so, channel our prayers and well-wishes into tangible deeds that can bring comfort and strength to Elizabeth and her loved ones.
Here are a few suggestions for good deeds we can each undertake in the merit of Elizabeth’s safe return:
  1. Acts of Kindness: Seize the opportunity to perform acts of kindness every day. By simply offering a helping hand to those around you, reaching out to a friend in need, or engaging in volunteer work within the wider community, we contribute to making the world a better place
  2. Acts of Charity: Consider making a donation to a charitable organization dedicated to assisting those in need. Let us direct our feelings of support and compassion to vulnerable individuals, spreading hope in Elizabeth's honor.
  3. Prayer and Unity: Please remember Elizabeth and her family in your prayers. Whether you choose to attend a minyan on her merit or privately pray for her safety and return, use the freedom you have to think of her and pray for her well-being.
  4. Torah Study: Dedicate a portion of your daily routine to the study of the Torah. This can be a book you have studied before or one which is new. Reach out to a friend and see if they will be your “Chevruta" or Torah study partner. Our collective Torah learning has the potential to bring about positive change.
By responding to this act of hate and terror with unity, love, and acts of kindness, we can strengthen Elizabeth throughout her ordeal. We remain hopeful and steadfast in our prayers for Elizabeth's immediate release and safe return to our community.
Rabbi Eitan Webb is the director of Chabad at Princeton University
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