Meet Devorah Heyman from Des Plaines. She is a 4th grade Hebrew and religious school teacher at Emanuel Congregation in Chicago (you know, that pretty lakefront place on Sheridan Road north of Hollywood) where she has been a member since 1973.

She entered our drawing online, at the urging of her sister, who lived in Israel for nine years and also introduced Devorah to the Festival. Devorah is married, with two grown children, one in the U.S. military, and is the only person in her family who has never actually been to Israel.

Now, during the 2014 Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema, she can go there every night! Randomly selected from hundreds of entries, Devorah won two reserved-seat tickets to all 30 screenings of the Festival, including Opening and Closing Nights. She said she looks forward to seeing more great Israeli films (her favorite of all time is Ushpizin), hearing a lot of conversational Hebrew and learning new idioms. Mazal tov, Devorah!

Cindy Stern in Jerusalem in 1982

Next month in Jerusalem

For one week in the middle of May, I will be in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to meet face-to-face with people with whom I have only thus far had electronic pen pal relationships: our Israeli distributors, the folks that each year supply us with the majority of films at the Festival. I’m not knocking email—or Skype, but it easier, and in most cases, more enjoyable, to do business with people you “know.”

I’m hoping these meetings, held at a time when Israeli features and documentaries are in ever-increasing demand at North American festivals such as Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto, Telluride and the Chicago International Film Festival (celebrating its 50th anniversary this October), will persuade some of the distributors to choose us over them, not just because we try harder, but because Israeli films, shown at the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema, in a major U.S. metropolitan area, in field of 15-20 to a cumulative audience of 1,000+, garners more attention and exposure than if those same films were sandwiched among hundreds of films and seen by maybe 200 people max.

I’m not being naïve here. Chicago is a film town, and has been from the earliest days of the medium. In addition, the CFIC last year established awards for audience-voted Best Feature and Best Documentary, which will only grow in prestige. These awards are named the Bevies, after Festival founder Beverly Braverman z”l.

Each year, it was Beverly’s great pleasure to do what I am doing this year—schmoozing with distributors and getting us the best films at prices we can afford. They knew and loved her, as I did, so we already see eye to eye.

Those eyes will be a little teary, too, as my trip coincides with the first anniversary of Bev’s passing, on May 14, 2013. She will be with me every step of the way.

Above: the author on the terrace outside Teddy Kollek’s office after an interview with the longtime Jerusalem mayor, 1982