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YOKOSUKA NAVY BASE, Japan — Melinda Zalma became a rabbi for two reasons: to strive for social justice and create inter-religion dialogue.

Other reasons persuaded her to serve as a U.S. Navy Reserve chaplain.

“Part of it is the uniform,” she said. “Part of it is the sense of pride that people in the military have.”

Zalma lives in New York City.

She arrives Wednesday at Fleet Activities Yokosuka, where she’ll spend several weeks.

She will lead services for Rosh Hashana (the Jewish new year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), two of the most important holidays to Jews.

Yokosuka doesn’t have a rabbi of its own, but it is the only base on the Kanto Plain with a Jewish chapel.

Zalma began her career as an electrical engineer. She worked as an engineer for six months but knew it wasn’t her calling.

“I really wanted to have the main focus of my work be people,” Zalma said during a telephone interview from New York. “I had become more passionate about Judaism in college.”

She left engineering and transferred to a religious school in Israel.

She attended Jewish Theological Seminary in 1998 and decided after her first year to join the Naval Chaplain Corps.

She was ordained a rabbi in May and soon will join the reserves.

Zalma said it was initially difficult balancing her religious values with the military. But she realized she wanted to support the people who support the nation.

“Helping people who are on a greater mission,” she said.

Joining the Naval Chaplain Corps introduced her to a wide variety of people, ideas and beliefs, she said.

“I don’t meet too many Southern Baptists in New York City,” she said. “I like the special relationship I have with people and having that be colored by the Jewish tradition.”

While in Japan, Zalma will also offer counseling and visit base chaplains, she said. Zalma also plans to travel with her husband, Adam, who will join her here in October.

Zalma said she is glad to see Japan. She is also prepared to go to dangerous locations if the Navy needs her, though that doesn’t come without fear.

Safety “is something I am worried about,” she said, but added that the importance of being a rabbi for those who need her prevails.


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