After years of decline, Temple Shalom in Milton is marking the Jewish new year with new members, a fulltime rabbi and an Israeli cantor for Rosh Hashanah

When Rabbi Alfred Benjamin and his congregation gather at Temple Shalom tonight  for the start of Rosh Hashanah, it won’t be just a time for reflection and resolution. It will also be a season for celebration.

 After years of declining attendance - and some questions about the synagogue’s long-term future - the congregation is marking the Jewish new year with new members, a full-time rabbi and a guest cantor from Israel.

 “This has become a time for good news,” Rabbi Benjamin said.

 A year ago, prospects didn’t seem so bright for the temple, which opened in 1944, in the early stages of a Jewish diaspora from Boston to the suburbs.

 Rabbi Benjamin arrived in 2006 as a part-time spiritual leader. When Temple Shalom joined Temple Beth El of Quincy and Temple B’nai Shalom of Braintree for a community Passover seder this spring, the three Conservative congregations briefly considered a merger - an idea that Rabbi Benjamin says all sides quickly abandoned when it became clear that most members remain deeply attached to their own synagogues.

 Those synagogues have declined in recent decades, as younger generations moved farther out, to Sharon, Canton, Randolph, Hingham and Plymouth, where congregations are now flourishing.

 In recent months several new families have joined Temple Shalom, and previously active ones have returned. Membership is now around 140 families - still down from the hundreds the synagogue once had, but the highest number in recent years.

 “We’ve got lots of reasons to be happy and optimistic,” congregation president Paul Etkind said.

 That’s one of the reasons Rabbi Benjamin invited Israeli cantor Saralee Shrell-Fox for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which will be observed Sept. 21-22.

 Shrell-Fox is a Minnesota native and Israeli citizen. She now lives in Jerusalem.

 As with other synagogues, Temple Shalom’s Rosh Hashanah activities will begin with a worship service tonight and continue on Thursday and Friday morning.

 Staff writer Bessie King contributed to this report.

Lane Lambert of The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.) may be reached at llambert@ledger.com.