If you break it down, our word atonement is a combination of three parts: at+one+ment. It is unclear if this is the actual etymology of the word, but there does seem to be a connection with a medieval Latin word for “unity.”
My own definition for the word atonement, or rather the act of making atonement, is “paying the necessary reparations to bring together two parties (people) who had been separated because of a wrong done or an injury.”
There may be a better definition for the word, but that is mine. With that, we can see that although the word atonement is much different than kippur, both describe the act relating to paying a ransom in order to redeem someone. And, by that act, we are bringing together two people who were separated. It is an at+one+ment.
We live in days of international terrorism, and we often hear of people being kidnapped and held for ransom by some terrorist organization. In our country we have a policy similar to that of many countries, in that “we will never negotiate or pay ransom to terrorists.” I agree with that policy, but I admit that it seems a rather cold and detached way of dealing with the fact that someone has been separated from the people that they love.
Living with the Threat
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s our family lived in Venezuela near the Colombian border. These were the years of extreme terrorism being carried out by the then strong Colombian drug cartels and terrorist organizations, such as FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). The border between Colombia and Venezuela was quite porous, so the Colombian guerillas passed easily between the two nations.
Kidnappings were not infrequent in the area of our frontier town, especially in the last couple years that we lived there. These were mostly kidnappings of people from wealthy families who were then held for ransom. We were not wealthy, so I did not feel that we were in too much danger—at least I did not until in the final months, when the kidnappings began to take on political overtones. It was then that kidnapping a family member from the only American family living on that area of the border could have its motivations.
It began to become worrisome for Vivian and me. In the final weeks that we were in that town, I began to form the habit of walking around town to visit the panadarias (bakeries) to have a bit of coffee and to find out the overnight local news from the various shopkeepers. The panadarias were the only places open in that time of day, so it was like getting the early morning local news.
I would say that at least once a week, a child or wife of some family of the area had been kidnapped and held for ransom. One morning the shopkeepers told me of one family receiving an envelope containing the severed finger of one of their sons, along with the ransom note.