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By the late 1810s, there were about 20 people of Jewish origin living in Sydney. Mostly convicts, they generally did not observe Jewish religious customs. It was not until 1817 that the first expression of Jewish faith was evident in New South Wales. This was the formation of a burial society, Chevra Kadisha, to ensure that Sydney's Jews were buried according to Jewish rites. Former convict Joseph Marcus, who claimed to have had rabbinical college education, performed these rites until about 1825.
With the increasing migration of free Jews from England in the 1820s came the need for a place for regular worship. Weekly services were held at the George Street house of Phillip Joseph Cohen before the congregation used a warehouse in Bridge Street as Sydney's first synagogue. The Jewish community's place in Sydney was solidified when the stylish York Street Synagogue opened in 1844. In 1859, a group broke away from the York Street congregation and established a synagogue in Macquarie Street. The two congregations were united by the opening of the Great Synagogue, Elizabeth Street, in 1878. The Great Synagogue and several suburban and regional synagogues provide focal points for Jewish religious and community life in New South Wales.