Israeli soldiers dressed for battle tend to look like soldiers from any country in the world, give or take a higher number of skinny, short Jewboys. The one exception is up top, where Israelis sport a head covering born by no other soldiers in the world. A kippa? Not quite. The peculiar hat is a mitznefet, a floppy mesh wrap that looks like a shower cap and attaches to the standard military helmets worn underneath.
The need for a mitznefet is hardly unique. Just as other armies daub their helmets with camouflage coloring, Israel uses the mitznefet to disguise the sight of a military helmet from the enemy. The mesh is perfect for reducing the sun’s (or moon’s) glare that reflects off a soldier’s helmet. Green/brown or tan coloring also allow a soldier to subtly blend into woods or desert surroundings.
Why other armies have not adopted the mitznefet is anybody’s guess. My own guess is that the distinctly Jewish roots of the camo-wrap explain its singular placement atop the heads of Israel’s soldiers. The modern source of the mitznefet is a mystery. But slip back a few thousand years into biblical Israel, and the source of a top commonly mistranslated as "clown hat" is clear. In the Biblical passages outlining the dress for the priests of the Jewish temple, a chef-hat like wrap is designed for use by the high priest. This special headdress is called a mitznefet by the Bible, a holy turban so to speak. From high priest to modern warriors, the mitznefet still serves as the crown of the Jewish peoples’ protectors.
The mitznefet is far more than a camouflaged crown however. The top also becomes an instant source of protection from the sun and annoying mosquito by dragging the mesh net down across one’s face. Portable mosquito netting and shade, two uses my peers quickly make use of whenever we pause in the sun during a long march. I have gone a few steps further, finding that the mitznefet also does a marvelous job of providing an extra level of unintended camouflage. When my heavy helmet becomes unbearable during a sweaty march, slipping the helmet off into my pack and keeping only the mitznefet atop my head never seems to catch the attention of undiscerning officers. When the march itself becomes unbearable, a final level of creative tampering is called for: With or without the helmet, the mitznefet provides ample space and coverage to clip a small music device to the inner webbing. With the rest of the mitznefet pulled down around the earphones nestling in my ears, no one is the wiser that I am rocking out to Tupac or Bob Dylan during a long march.
In Jewish folklore, 'Kefitzat Haderech,' the shortening of the way, is the ability to travel with unnatural speed, to be in one place and then suddenly appear in another.
Kefitzat Haderech is now the notes of a former grad student, no longer traveling across Asia as he prepares for life as an Israeli combat soldier. Insights on Garin Tzabar, Gibushim and the Israeli Army.