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Jewish Scholastic Press Association

Jewish Scholastic Press Association

Alumnus killed in Israel-Hamas war

On Oct. 20, CESJDS alumnus Omer Balva (‘19) was killed by an antitank missile fired from Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, while serving as a reservist in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on the border with Lebanon. He was a dual Israel-American citizen who was called back to Israel from Maryland once the war began.

Justin Galitzer (‘19), Balva’s close friend, explained in a phone interview that they enlisted in the IDF four months apart from each other after graduating from CESJDS, and after training, Balva was awarded for his excellence as a soldier and was promoted to staff sergeant and commander in the 9203rd Battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade.

“[He was] the best all-around human being. Anybody is fortunate to have met or to have been surrounded by his personality, his love, his kindness, and he was just [the] most genuine person,” Galitzer said. “I don’t think there’s one person in our grade that didn’t want to be friends with him… He just had the ability to make everyone around and feel so loved.”

On Oct. 24, Upper School students attended a tekes (ceremony) to honor Balva, where Head of School Rabbi Mitchell Malkus, Upper School Arts Coordinator David Solomon, Maya Almog (‘19) and senior Reyut Wasserstein shared their tributes to Balva’s memory. Afterward, Malkus led El Maleh Rachamim, and High School Jewish Life Chair Robbie Shorr led the Mourner’s Kaddish.

Across the JDS community, Balva was described as an endlessly kind student, friend and leader. As the praise for Balva’s selfless heroism echoed throughout social media and the news, his closest friends and mentors reflected upon the life he led.

“He was also the most selfless individual; [he] fell in combat a hero courageously protecting the country and its people,” Galitzer said. “I know he loved the JDS community, and I know if we had more Omers in the world, the world would be such a better place.”

For the people closest to him, Balva is remembered for his infectious joy felt by anyone he encountered. In his speech at the tekes, Solomon said that Balva truly embodied what it means to live, whether through stepping up as a friend, taking a risk to participate in a new activity or simply chasing his dreams.

“His smile really was what I remember most about him. It defined him, and it was so deep that it could tell you so much about him.” Upper School Hebrew Language Chair Shelli Putterman-Kenett said. “But as a student, he really respected everyone. He was so humble and embodied what it meant to give others his understanding.”

Galitzer also emphasized Balva’s love for Israel and his ability to put a smile on everyone’s face, both at JDS and at Reichman University, where both of them went to school.

“Omer was loved by students and teachers alike,” CESJDS wrote in a community email on Oct. 21. “He had a deep love of Israel, Judaism and the Jewish people; he was an unabashed advocate for the State of Israel, who was proud to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. ”

Outside of class, Balva was a passionate actor who dedicated lots of time to the 2018 High School Musical, “Mamma Mia.” He left JDS for the first part of high school, and after returning, Balva was excited to join the musical theater program and perform on stage again. According to Solomon, Balva was a star both on and off the stage.

“He was a leader right away,” Solomon said. “When you have a cast, one of the first things you want to do is make sure they bond with each other, and he had this innate ability to interact with anybody and everybody. He made them feel included and accepted. He became friends with everybody.”

In his speech at the tekes, Solomon emphasized that to truly honor Balva’s memory, everyone should continue to prioritize kindness above all else.

“We should make an effort to be kind to others,” Solomon said. “That is carrying on his legacy. If there was one word to describe Omer, it is kind.”

This story was originally published in The Lion’s Tale on October 25, 2023.

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