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    School holds memorial ceremony for Omer Balva

    Penelope Terl
    Screenshot of the live streamed memorial for Omer Balva on CESJDS Youtube.

    Nearly four hundred people gathered in the Upper School auditorium on Oct. 26 to remember Omer Balva (‘19), who was killed on Oct. 20 while serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reserves.

    “I felt like I was obligated [to attend the memorial] as a community member and as a Jewish person who’s devoted to Israel,” sophomore Bee Kotler said. “Someone died protecting our country, someone who was part of our community and was a hero for the Jewish people.”

    The theater was overflowing, with family, friends and community members standing in the aisles and packed together in the doorways. An additional 440 people tuned in via livestream from all over the world, adding up to over 840 people present in order to commemorate Balva.

    “We will never get to see how this bright, passionate, kind and committed young man would have continued to make a difference in the world,” Head of School Rabbi Mitchel Malkus said in his speech at the memorial. “We will, [however], always know the profound impact he had on his family, our school and his classmates. We are committed to keeping his memory alive in our hearts forever in this community.”

    Balva was visiting family and friends in Maryland when the war began, and he was called back to Israel to serve in reserve duty. All of the presenters at the memorial spoke of Balva’s immense kindness, generosity, joy and devotion to Israel. Ethan Missner, Balva’s friend since childhood, spoke at the memorial about how just a week prior to his death, they were together in Rockville.

    “He had this contagious aura of brightness that truly had a profound impact on everyone that had the privilege of being around him,” Missner said in his speech. “His light was really beyond human comprehension.”

    The Class of 2019 created a montage of photos and videos of Balva at JDS with his friends, in Israel and in the IDF. Many of the videos took place on the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Israel Trip. After graduating from JDS, instead of going to American colleges with his friends, Balva enrolled at Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel. He also joined the IDF.

    “I think [Capstone Israel Trip] trip is like our first time … deciding our own path. I thought my path was very different than my parents. It’s actually very similar, but my own independant one…Mom and Dad, don’t worry, I won’t stray off the path,” Balva said in one of the videos.

    In addition to the speakers, there was a musical performace by Talia Shemony (19’),and Jewish text teacher Rabbi Reuvane Slater led El Malei Rachamim and Hatikva. Slater also read an excerpt from an essay Balva wrote during his time at JDS about what it means to be a hero.

    “Omer walked in his own beautiful path and spread so much light in the world. When called to protect his country, his people, his fellow soldiers during Israel’s most difficult time in its history, he did not hesitate,” JDS Board of Directors President Ayala Nuriely Kimel said during her speech. “He showed exceptional bravery and such amazing commitment to his country, Israel.”

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