Israeli Soldier from Rockville Killed While Fighting Near Lebanese Border

Staff Sgt. Omer Balva, 22,who grew up in Rockville and became a dual Israeli-American citizen after graduating from Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (JDS)  in Rockville, was killed Friday while serving along the Israeli border with Lebanon.

Lily, a classmate and close friend since kindergarten,  described him as a loving and caring person who could be humorous and still serious.

Balva was killed in an anti-tank missile attack as part of clashes between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He was a platoon commander in the 9203 battalion of the Alexandroni brigade.

“Everywhere he went, he was really loved,” said Lily. MCM is not using her last name for security reasons. “Everyone loved him. I never found anyone who didn’t love him, which is pretty rare,” she said.

Balva, who had attended JDS since he was seven years old, and Lily were among six students in the 2019 class at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (JDS) to join the Israel Defense Force (IDF) upon their graduation.

They joined as lone soldiers, meaning without family in Israel, although Balva’s family was Israeli and he spoke Hebrew at home.

When the two moved to Israel and were neighbors in the same kibbutz for a time, Lily said they became family.

According to a post from the school while he was still in high school, “Omer Balva sees his future in Israel and, for the love of his Jewish homeland, wants to serve in the IDF alongside his peers. He is looking forward to living in Israel for the first time ever and having members of his family so close by.”

While at JDS, he played soccer and was involved in the theater program.

While training for the IDF, Balva was always supportive of everyone in his group. “He always picked the group up,” she said, recalling a time when she was running slowly, behind the others, and he pulled her along.

“We had this mutual understanding that we were there for each other. I just felt safer,” Lily recalled.

It wasn’t just Lily he looked out for, she said. “He really took the time to take care of his soldiers.”

She fondly remembered a time during high school when their class was in Israel during that country’s memorial day. While all the students were respectful, Lily said both she and Balva were deeply moved. “The two of us just knew” we would live in Israel someday, she said.

“Our love for Israel and the army was just so intense.”

His funeral was Sunday in Israel and several members of his family spoke, including two of his three siblings.

On Facebook, JDS posted that the school is in mourning and called him “a beloved student.”

“Omer was an unabashed advocate for the State of Israel. He is a hero to the State of Israel, the Jewish people, and the school. We are devastated and heartbroken,” school officials wrote in the post.

Balva, according to the JDS post when he was still a student, was “conscious of the fact that many people are not supportive of the IDF’s mission, and wants to see the conflict first-hand, as opposed to seeing and hearing about it on the news.”

Following his Army service, Balva became a student at Reichman University. Its Raphael Recanati International School posted on Facebook that it “is devastated to announce the death of Omer Balva.”

He was studying business and economics.

He was called up as a reservist following Hamas’ recent attack on Israel. He was in the United States at the time but quickly flew back to Israel to serve, according to several of his friends’ family on Facebook.

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