For reservists, growing a mustache is a symbol of this war
Looking for some levity and unity in week three of Operation Swords of Iron, soldiers called for duty turn to their upper lips
When Zvi Friedlander received the emergency call-up for reserve duty on Saturday, October 7, he threw his uniform and essentials into a duffel… and took a last look at his “naked” upper lip.
Within a couple of days, his mustache was filling in nicely, although it took a few more to get the full effect.
In fact, nearly every man in his unit now has a mustache, maintaining a tradition each time they gather together for reserve duty.
This time, they’re not the only ones. In fact, Israel’s war against Hamas, officially codenamed Swords of Iron, is known as #mustacheswordsofiron among many reservists.
The war began October 7, after Hamas terrorists launched a multi-pronged assault on Israel’s border communities and towns, killing more than 1,400, most of them civilians, and abducting over 230. It brought about a massive reservist callup of more than 350,000 troops, the largest since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Morale has been high, say reservists, and the act of growing a mustache, something slightly goofy but endearing, unites many who have taken a temporary leave from their regular lives.
“It’s something a little lighthearted and it’s got broad appeal,” said Or Ben Zvi-Klein, 43, currently serving in the West Bank.
Ben Zvi-Klein was called up on October 7, but only began growing his mustache about a week ago, along with many others in his unit.
Evyatar Shtayer often sports a mustache in normal life, but encouraged others in his unit to also try out the upper lip style. Now most of them have grown some kind of mustache over the last three weeks.
“It’s not a war trend for me,” said Shtayer, “it’s something I do off and on.”
Alongside the reservists, many other Israelis, from comedians and actors to entertainers and regular civilians, are growing mustaches in a show of support to their family members and friends called up to serve.
Ben Zvi-Klein recalls doing something similar with beards in 2014, with Operation Protective Edge.
“This time, though, it’s really taken off on social media,” he said.
Friedlander agreed, commenting that the mustaches offer some level of comic relief, and reflect the departure from normal life that reserve duty entails.
But he thinks there’s something deeper this time, a reference to days of yore and specifically the Yom Kippur War, which was the last time so many troops were called up. Many had mustaches, which were in style at the time.
“It’s a kind of nostalgia,” he said. “On a good day, I’m a leftist but I don’t even know what that means right now. We’ve all been thrown into something. Maybe the mustaches are about harkening back to what was.”
Ben-Zvi echoed the same thought, thinking back to photos of the Yom Kippur War, of the soldiers back then, and what they looked like.
The mustaches also reflect the looser IDF rules with regard to reservists, who can show up with any kind of hairdo or facial hair, said Friedlander, whether it’s dreadlocks or beards, unlike enlisted soldiers.
In fact, one of the new, younger reserve duty recruits in his own unit is a hairdresser, and just gave Friedlander a mullet haircut.
“My family is not going to be happy,” said Friedlander, who in his real life is a teacher at a Jerusalem art school. “In that respect, it’s good that this war is going to take forever,” he said wryly.
For Friedlander’s unit, however, the mustaches are not just a feature of this war. They’ve been around for much longer; his colleagues are pretty sure they’re the ones who started the entire trend.
“Of course, we raise our mustaches to this — like, it’s great that you joined the party. But it’s been going on for a while,” he said.
Indeed, his reserve unit calls themselves “The Explosive Mustaches,” a play on their particular role in the army.
They’ve been growing mustaches since being called up in 2014 to the Egyptian border for Operation Protective Edge.
At the time, the border was quiet and they got bored during the six weeks of reserve duty.
But the mustaches stuck, and while most shaved them off during their civilian lives, they all grow mustaches each time they’re called up for reserve duty, even if it’s just for a day.
“People [in the unit] only know each other with their mustaches,” said Friedlander. “Once in a while you’ll see someone from reserve duty in civilian life, and you can’t quite recognize each other.”