Nehemiah Park is named for the nearby Nehemiah Houses, a housing development built by a local non-profit organization, whose innovative methods of financing and constructing affordable housing for both renters and homeowners is used as a model all over the country. The group’s mission is inspired by Nehemiah, the ancient biblical figure who helped rebuild Jerusalem after its first destruction.
In 597 B.C.E., the kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonian Empire, leading to the expulsion and enslavement of the region’s Jews by the forces of Babylon. Judah’s great city, Jerusalem, was laid to waste in the conflagration. In 538 B.C.E., the time later referred to as the “Babylonian Exile” and the “Babylonian Captivity” was brought to an end when the Persian King Cyrus the Great (ca. 590-529 B.C.E.) conquered Babylon. While some Jewish exiles chose to remain behind, many others returned to Palestine and rebuilt Jerusalem. With this group walked the Persian-born Jew Nehemiah.
Nehemiah served as cupbearer in the court of the Persian King Artaxerxes (reign 464-425 B.C.E.). When he learned of the troubles facing the Jews who had returned to Palestine, Nehemiah became deeply concerned and asked for permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. Artaxerxes, sympathetic to the plight of the Jews, approved of Nehemiah’s plan. In 444 B.C.E., Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem and encouraged the Jews to repopulate and reconstruct the city, which had been neglected since the Babylonians first sacked the city at the beginning of the sixth century B.C.E. Over the years that followed, Nehemiah instituted several economic and religious reforms. He promoted stricter observance of the Sabbath and ended the practice among Jewish men of marrying non-Jewish women. Nehemiah’s work to make the laws of the Torah central to the practice of Judaism in the Diaspora led to the survival of the Jewish faith.
Nehemiah Park is bounded by Osborn and Watkins Streets and Riverdale Avenue. Parks acquired the site in 1997 from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services for the Brownsville I Urban Renewal plan begun in 1996. Nehemiah Park offers a combination of shaded seats for adults and diverse play options for children. The park and its pin oak trees are surrounded by basketball courts and two shower basins. It also contains red, white, blue, and black theme adventure equipment with safety surfacing. During 2007 and 2008, Nehemiah Park received $500,000 in improvements, including new fencing and safety surfacing.