Family affair / The Zvadias
* The cast: Wodaj (34), Zeheinish (32), Liav (3), Liad (6 months).
* Friday, dusk: The shopping is done, the floor is washed, the aroma of incense wafts from a small clay vessel. It will soon be Shabbat.
* The home: Neveh David neighborhood, elegant (marble lobby, stainless-steel elevators) seven-story building; apartment on the third floor, neighbors from Caucasus and India. They moved into the apartment - 114 square meters, with living room, dining area, separate kitchen and three other rooms - in 2004.
* The price: They paid $130,000 (in shekels) and took two mortgages of NIS 220,000, on which they are paying NIS 1,500 a month, in addition to NIS 150 a month to the house committee and NIS 300 in municipal property tax.
* Design: In the living room is a gold chandelier, two heavy, brown leather sofas (3 + 2 seaters) and a matching armchair opposite a television set on a bureau, bookshelves (Amos Oz, Yeshayahu Leibowitz) and a glass case packed with trophies.
* Trophies: At least 200, all belonging to Wodaj, who is the Israeli runner-up in the marathon (his personal best is 2:16.04?). All the prizes are from Israeli championships and local races (Ein Gedi, Ashkelon, Haifa, Mount Tavor, Jerusalem half-marathon and others).
* Design (cont.): In the large space, which also contains a mineral-water device, is a heavy dining table covered in transparent wax, and above it (on the wall) is a framed gilded Arab dagger ("a present from a friend"). We go on.
* Going on: We peek into the well-equipped cherry-wood kitchen, with granite-porcelain surfaces, and notice the traditional metal stove in which Zeheinish is baking sour Ethiopian injera (a type of pita). We move on to the rooms along a short corridor adorned with small sculptures of giraffes, certificates (from the Wingate Institute of sports) and framed newspaper clippings (in English).
* The rooms: To the left is Liav's room, which contains a bunk bed; little Liad, too, will sleep there when he is older. A little further down is the master bedroom, containing a shiny toilette table; between the rooms is the security space, which serves as Wodaj's study and has a computer and a treadmill.
* The treadmill: On rainy days (only) Wodaj gets on the machine and does 40 minutes at 19 kilometers an hour, before reducing to 16 kph. (10 minutes) and 14 kph. (another 10 minutes). Sometimes, he says, he will push himself to do 6 tough minutes at 22 kph., but that, he says, is cruel and unusual punishment.
* Livelihoods: Zeheinish, currently on maternity leave, designs earrings, rings and pendants for a jewelry manufacturer in Tel Aviv, working a five-day week (7:30 A.M.-5:30 P.M.) and traveling back and forth by bus. She learned the profession on the job ("Teach me, I told them"); by profession she is a kindergarten teacher, and holds a teaching certificate from the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel. One day, she dreams, she will have her own kindergarten.
* Wodaj's livelihood: A marathon runner and a member of the Olympic team, he is getting ready for the Beijing Olympics. Next month, he will compete in the world championships in Osaka, Japan; before that he will run in the 5,000-meter event in the Israeli athletics championship games. Wodaj, whose sponsor is the U.S. firm of Brooks Shoes, trains twice a day (morning and evening), and is very mindful of the physical and mental crises that occur during runs.
* Runs: An hour and a half in the morning - 30 kilometers in the area of Haruvit, near Beit Shemesh. In the evening he does 10-15 kilometers from Ramle to around Bilu Junction and back. He always encounters the "wall" - the personal breaking point in a marathon - at the 37th kilometer.
* The 37th kilometer: "I tell myself, 'Walla, Wodaj, another five kilometers.'" Despite the trembling muscles, the bursting veins and the shortness of breath, he keeps running in order to experience a liberated feeling at the 39th kilometer, until the finish line (42 kilometers, 195 meters).
* Loneliness: "Always." Only the watch, his enemy-friend, keeps him company and always defines his progress along the milestones. While running, he says, his thoughts wander to the state of his bank account.
* iPod: "I don't run with one. Only a watch."
* Subsistence: He receives NIS 1,500 a month as a member of the Olympic team, a similar amount from the Athletic Union, and NIS 2,500 from the Absorption Ministry. He also works as an athletic trainer for the Nes Tziona Municipality. His charges, 30 children of Ethiopian origin, view him as a role model, he says.
* Their children: Liav is in a municipal nursery school (from 8:30 A.M.-3:30 P.M., NIS 350 a month); Liad is home with Mom. During the day, Zeheinish often draws on the help of her brother and sister (Teddy and Riki), who always lend a hand. Wodaj is permanently in charge of taking Liav to nursery school and picking him up, using the family's 1998 Hyundai Accent.
* Zeheinish's bio: Born in 1976 in a northern Ethiopian town, the eldest of six sisters and a brother. Her father (who lives on his own in Israel) was a farmer; her mother made ceramic objects in their wood-and-straw home. As a girl, she herded the family's livestock, and at the age of 15 came to Israel in Operation Solomon (after three years in Addis Ababa).
After living at two absorption centers (Tiberias and Acre), she was sent to a boarding school of the state-religious stream (near Tivon, in the Haifa area), while the family settled in Ramle. At the age of 18 she entered the college in Ariel and graduated as a kindergarten teacher (stage one). During her studies she lived in the nearby settlement of Kedumim, which was where her romantic phase began, when Wodaj, whom she had known from the boarding-school period, suddenly popped up and asked for her hand.
* Wodaj's bio: His name means "friend" in Amharic. Born near Gondar in 1973, he has nine brothers and sisters. His family, too, made a living by farming, but he spent his childhood in his grandfather's house in the city of Ambovar. At the age of 12 he moved to Addis Ababa, and with the help of a relative ("an uncle who has lived in Jerusalem for 60 years"), he received an immigration certificate for Israel. At the age of 16, he arrived in Ashdod with his father and the rest of his siblings, and was sent to the same boarding school that Zeheinish later attended. It was there that his running skills were discovered.
* Running skills: In 1992, the school sent him to the Beit She'an race, where he finished sixth, "and suddenly people noticed me." He was the school star for four years, until moving to Wingate ("I was the first Ethiopian student"); he did his army service within the framework of the officer-candidate academic studies program. At this stage he renewed his ties with Zeheinish, the girl whom he had met in boarding school and whose image he had preserved in his heart.
* The meeting: They first met when she was in 10th grade and he was a senior in high school. They never talked until one day he returned from a competition abroad and brought her a blouse as a present. No romantic relationship developed from that, only embarrassment. For two years he sent her letters, but she refused to be impressed by the intensity of his feelings, until one day ("after the Rabin assassination"), while she was attending Ariel College and living in Kedumim, he suddenly showed up and she cracked. Fearing that he would return at night on the dangerous roads, she asked him to stay over. He agreed. Afterward, she became his girlfriend. They dated for eight years, saved up money and were married.
* The wedding: Asher Banquet Hall, Rishon Letzion, 1,000 guests, Mediterranean, Amharic and disco music, Israeli food ("without injera").
* Daily routine: Wodaj gets up at 5 A.M., washes his face, has a cup of instant coffee (two teaspoons of sugar), puts on his running shoes and hits the road. Zeheinish gets up at a quarter to six, showers, gets Liav ready for school, feeds Liad formula and stays home, because she is on maternity leave. Wodaj returns, showers, drops off Liav, comes home again, and until midday helps with the household chores, including washing the floor ("That's from the boarding school"). He believes in an important rule: "Help someone and you will be helped in return." At 3:25 P.M. he goes to pick up Liav and at 6 goes for his evening run. When he returns, Zeheinish serves supper (bourekas, cheeses, salads, hard-boiled eggs).
* Nutrition: Wodaj eats a "balanced" diet, he says. He has a dispute, he adds, with Ayelet, the nutrition coach of the Olympic team. She insists on five orderly meals a day; he wants freedom. He weighs 54 kilograms and his pulse at rest is 40.
* Television: Wodaj watches only the news and goes to sleep at 9 at the latest. Zeheinish watches movies and the telenovela channel. She is awake until midnight.
* God: Wodaj believes ("I thank him if I lose, too"). He stopped wearing a skullcap in 2004. The competitions, he says, are always on Shabbat and he has authorization from the rabbi. "The Creator gave me my running," he says, "so why should I not make use of my gift?" Zeheinish, in contrast, is "a serious Shabbat observer."
* Going abroad: "I always go alone and the family stays in Israel," Wodaj says. "They will never let me bring them." Soon they will part for three weeks, when he attends the games in Japan. Zeheinish wishes him all the best.
* Colleagues: "The Kenyan runners are always friends," he says. "The Ethiopians are suspicious and patronizing, because we, the Jews, left."
* Dream: "To get to the Olympics" (Wodaj); "A daughter" (Zeheinish).
* Plans: Wodaj is certain that when he retires (at 40), friends ("sabras") will help him open a business (a gym).
* Politics: "I ran the half-marathon with Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem" (Wodaj). Other than that, neither of them is inclined to back anyone after Sharon ("a person of thought and good judgment").
* Quarrels and making up: "Never. No one hears us, and the neighbors say, 'Are you there?'"
* Happiness quotient (scale of 1-10): Zeheinish - 9, Wodaj - 8 ("The Olympics will make it 10").