Local Hero Omer Balva Falls in War Against Hezbollah Terror

22-year-old Israeli-American killed by Hezbollah remembered as proud Zionist

October 23, 2023

In the 49 days following Passover and leading up to Shavuot, the Jewish people participate in the counting of the Omer. This tradition invites us to introspect and grow in the seven emotional attributes that, according to Jewish wisdom, make up human experience. They are:

1. Chesed: Loving-kindness

2. Gevurah: Justice and discipline

3. Tiferet: Compassion

4. Netzach: Endurance

5. Hod: Humility

6. Yesod: Bonding

7. Malchut: Sovereignty, leadership

My high school classmate Omer Balva epitomized these traits. We were students at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (JDS) in Rockville, Maryland, and graduated together in 2019.

Omer (center) in kindergarten pictured with author (directly behind) [Courtesy of author]

Omer (red shirt) pictured with author (pink shirt) [Courtesy of author]
Omer, 22, was murdered in an attack by Hezbollah terrorists on Friday. He had been visiting his hometown of Rockville, Maryland, when his infantry unit was called up to serve. His friends, family, and girlfriend of four years begged him not to go, but Omer could not sleep until he was dutifully on a flight back to Israel. (Netzach: Endurance).

Omer grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, but after graduating from high school, he moved to Israel with his family and enlisted in the army.

He wrote to his best friend, Ethan Missner, before enlisting, "I want you to know that every time I’m sad, I go to this one thought of me and you at 24 or 25 with our families on vacation, the thought of us with wives and children we love and are able to support brings a smile to my face. Love you more than anything, whenever you need me and I am on a mission, just read this letter. Love you dude and remember we are only a few years away from our dream!!"

When he died, Omer had just purchased a diamond ring for his girlfriend of four years, Odelia. In his last Instagram post, a birthday tribute to Odelia, he wrote, "Happy Birthday to the most beautiful and perfect girl in the world! I love you more than everything and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you."

Omer was known for his beaming smile, joie de vivre, and reverberating laugh. Since his passing, countless members of our class have written in. They say he went out of his way to include them in his joke, story, party, or discussion. Some described feeling ostracized at school. Omer made them feel heard and valued. Omer noticed small changes in the dispositions of others and checked in. He drove to friends’ homes late at night, delivered frozen yogurt, and sat beside them to talk. (Tiferet: Compassion; Chesed: Loving-kindness).

In our Arab-Israeli conflict class, many were critical of Israel. Not Omer. He talked about the beauty of the Zionist dream, of Jewish strength, and of his and his family’s connection to the state of Israel. He knew that Jews stand for peace, and that the State of Israel stands for justice. He said: "If I ever die, I want it to be for the State of Israel." (Gevurah: Justice).

Omer played on the soccer team, served as a counselor for younger students on school retreats, and starred in Mamma Mia! senior year. He had never participated in a musical before but practiced relentlessly and put on a performance we all adored. (Hod: Humility).

After graduation, Omer enlisted in the IDF, participating in the Garin Tzabar lone soldiers integration program alongside our classmate, Lily Daroff. The group participated in a team-based physical fitness running test. As she was struggling to make it to the finish line, Lily felt a push—Omer had gone behind her and pushed her forward as he ran so that she could make it on time.

Omer lifted people up. That’s what he did. Our classmate Maya Almog recalled her first year at JDS, having come from Israel with no English skills. She was tasked with leading an IDF memorial service but was nervous to read in English in front of the school. Omer spent weeks practicing with her, and on the day of the assembly, stood by her side on stage. (Yesod: Bonding).

Lily, who served in the spokesperson's unit of the IDF, visited Omer several times to make video content for her unit. No matter where he was, or what the circumstances, Omer stayed positive, and exhibited true leadership. "He was a commander, and it was clear how much his soldiers respected and loved him." (Malchut: Leadership).

Our Jewish day school takes the senior class to Israel. On our class trip, in Jerusalem, we gathered together to bring in Shabbat at the Western Wall. As we swayed in a circle, arm in arm, singing the Adon Olam prayer, Omer said that this was the time he felt God most strongly.

This past Friday, Omer wrote to his family: "I love you all. We are heading out. I will see you Sunday morning. Shabbat shalom."

Omer is survived by his sister Shachar, his brothers Barak and Itai, and his parents, Sigal and Eyal.

I was not in Omer’s inner circle. But it is a testament to his endless kindness and his natural leadership that I miss him so, so much. Baruch Dayan Ha’emet.