While Sarah Ariel Attermann was having a quiet evening at home on January 18, 2019, sipping white wine on her couch in Washington, she posted a Facebook message to Scott Michael Topal, who lived in Chicago: “From what I’ve heard, you ‘It’s a great person to know. Hope you are planning a visit to DC soon! “
Mr Topal saw her Facebook message a day later after returning home from one four day conference on emerging technologies in summer camp management in Boulder, Colorado. Her name came up when he met a colleague who had taken her job as program director at Camp Ramah Darom in Atlanta.
“And I also hear that you are pretty great. How does a daromer end up in DC? ” he asked her.
In fact, over dinner a week earlier in Washington, his brother and his brother’s roommate told him that they wanted to introduce them to him, especially since each had a close relationship with Camp Ramah, a non-profit network of Jewish camps. Ms. Attermann, 34, began as a camper and counselor with Ramah Darom in the North Georgia Mountains of Clayton, Georgia after college serving as a year-round program director. Mr. Topal, 32, worked at Camp Ramah Wisconsin in the Northwoods of Conover, Wisconsin. Today he is the operations manager of the camp and is based in Chicago. He graduated from Northwestern.
“I looked at his Facebook picture,” she said, remembering thinking, “He’s cute. He is really cute. ‘”
With no introduction in sight, she had taken matters into her own hands with her message. Mr. Topal enjoyed her repetition and, fascinated, sent her his phone number a few days later, not knowing when they would ever meet.
“We wrote an ongoing commentary pretty quickly,” said Ms. Attermann, then a youth and family educator for the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington and now director of youth engagement at the North Suburban Beth El Synagogue in Highland Park, Illinois the University of Florida, from which she also received a Masters in Elementary Education. She received a Masters degree in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
A month later, Ms. Attermann’s boss, Rabbi Kerrith Solomon, aware of the budding romance, asked her to travel to Chicago to attend a synagogue youth program. Ms. Attermann met Mr. Topal for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Chicago on a cold Friday evening in mid-February.
“He was very attentive and had a big smile on his face,” she said and met him the next day at Cloud Gate, the public sculpture called Bean, in Millennium Park. Later, when he took her to her hotel via Uber, they hugged goodbye.
“The logistics scared me,” he said. “But there was something that felt right.”
Before booking a flight to visit Washington in March 2019, he called his brother, who until then had no idea what was going on, and stayed with his brother in Washington while he did some touristy things with Ms. Attermann. (The rabbi received regular progress reports).
Ms. Attermann visited him in Chicago in late April and spent a weekend in July at Camp Ramah Wisconsin kayaking, hiking, sitting and talking by the lake.
“I knew by the summer that this was someone special that I wanted to have in my life forever,” said Ms. Attermann.
In March 2020, after he visited her, she flew back to Chicago with only one suitcase with him and planned to stay a few weeks during the coronavirus pandemic. She finally moved in. In July, he suggested that her apartment be decorated with white and silver balloons.
“We have all brought so much light and happiness into each other’s lives that it felt right to get married during the Hanukkah vacation,” he said.
They were married to Rabbi Solomon on December 10th in front of the Bethesda Marriott Hotel, an 11-hour drive from Chicago. Mrs. Attermann takes the name of the groom.
On December 12, the third night of Hanukkah, the rabbi presided over a remote religious ceremony attended in person by Jacob Cytryn, the executive director of Camp Ramah Wisconsin. Twenty guests, including their parents and immediate family members, were there in person and about 240 others were watching via livestream.