IDF reservist Omer Balva, a 22-year-old citizen of the U.S. and Israel, was killed Friday in an anti-tank missile attack on the Lebanon border. The week before, he was looking forward to a reunion with his best friend in New York City, where Ethan Missner lives.
The two bonded when they were six at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland, from which they graduated in 2019. Ethan headed to Georgetown University and Omer to Israel. There Omer joined the Israeli Defense Forces, studied economics at Reichman University and planned to marry his girlfriend of more than four years.
After Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, the IDF called Omer up, and the friends scuttled their New York plan. Omer had been staying with his parents, Sigal and Eyal, who split their time between their home in Israel and apartment in Rockville. Ethan said he would meet his friend there so they could spend time together before he deployed. They hung out at the Balva’s, where Omer’s girlfriend cooked dinner. They went shopping for Omer’s unit, which was short on equipment — Ethan’s father, Jon, gave them his credit card and told them to buy whatever was needed.
And then the young men did something they usually don’t.
“Ethan and Omer, who I would say are not overly religious, went to lay tefillin,” Jon Missner told me in a phone call Saturday night. Ethan was on the call too. It seemed the right thing to do, there in the Balva’s apartment before Omer went off to serve as a commander in the 9203rd Battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade.
‘A deep love of Israel’
Ethan’s mother Shani joined the call. She also wanted to talk about Omer, the second-youngest of four children. “He never talked about himself. He never bragged. He always just had a huge smile on his face,” she said. “You just wanted to be with him.”
Asked to describe his best friend, Ethan was quieter than his parents. He said simply: “He was the sweetest kid ever.”
It seemed easier for him to talk about their shared childhood. He used to call him “Omey.”
Omer liked sports, Ethan said. When they were kids they played ping pong and tennis, and kicked a soccer ball around in the backyard. Omer would eventually join the soccer team at their Jewish day school, known as JDS. The school sent an email to to students’ families and alumni after Shabbat that noted that Omer, who enrolled in JDS when he was 7, had been active in theater and participated in its program in Israel after graduation.
“Omer was loved by students and teachers alike. He had a deep love of Israel, Judaism, and the Jewish people,” the email read. “He was an unabashed advocate for the State of Israel, who was proud to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.”
His funeral was planned for Sunday in the military cemetery in Herzliya.
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