An Israeli military reservist who was raised in Maryland was killed on Friday when anti-tank missile fire struck his unit near Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, the Israeli military said.
Mr. Balva was a staff sergeant in the 9203rd battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
He moved to Israel after graduating from high school in Rockville, Md., in 2019 and was a student at Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel, where he was studying for a degree in business administration and economics.
Ethan Missner, a close friend of Mr. Balva’s since childhood, said that the two had talked “almost daily” for their entire lives, except when Mr. Balva was training with the Israeli military.
“Since we were 6 years old, I’ve spent, you know, endless time with him,” he said.
“I truthfully don’t know a single person that’s ever fought with Omer,” Mr. Missner added. “And I think that that’s a superpower Omer had, that he can know and be close to so many people and he was just only sweet.”
Mr. Balva was on vacation in the United States when he was called up to fight in Israel, Mr. Missner said. He said that Mr. Balva had been traveling with his girlfriend of four years, whom he had planned to propose to soon.
Mr. Balva, left, with his friend Ethan Missner. Mr. Balva “died fighting for the people that he loved and a country that he loved,” Mr. Missner said.Credit…via Ethan Missner
Before Mr. Balva left for Israel about a week ago, he stopped in Maryland and spent some time with Mr. Missner, who said that his friend’s top concern was making sure his loved ones were not too worried. Mr. Balva’s parents were already in Israel when he arrived and he spent two days with them before he was sent to a military base, Mr. Missner said.
“He died fighting for the people that he loved and a country that he loved,” Mr. Missner said.
On Sunday, Mr. Missner and his family watched a livestream of Mr. Balva’s funeral in Israel. Thousands of people attended, he said, and the speakers included Mr. Balva’s parents, his three siblings and his girlfriend.
Mr. Balva graduated from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, outside Washington, in 2019. The school said in a statement on Instagram that Mr. Balva was “an unabashed advocate for the State of Israel.”
In a 2018 school presentation, Mr. Balva described his family’s long history with Israel and said that his parents had moved to the United States in 1996 for business reasons. He wrote in the presentation that he hoped to move to Israel as an adult and to raise his children there.
In 2019, the year Mr. Balva left for Israel and began his compulsory military service, he wrote a letter to Mr. Missner. “I want you to know,” he wrote, “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 always brings a smile to my face.”
The death toll in Gaza from Israel’s retaliatory bombing campaign has risen to at least 4,385, and there have been more than 13,500 injuries, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza. More than 60 percent of those killed in the Gaza Strip are women and children, the United Nations said Saturday, citing figures from the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.