At 104, Bucks woman making first trip to Holy Land

Eleanor Hall (center), 104, with daughter Evelyn Sellers (left), 77, and Jane Dwyer, wife of Pastor Doug Dwyer. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Eleanor Hall (center), 104, with daughter Evelyn Sellers (left), 77, and Jane Dwyer, wife of Pastor Doug Dwyer. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 31, 2013

It took 104 years, but Bucks County resident Eleanor Hall is finally making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

She leaves Wednesday, along with her daughter, two granddaughters, and other members of the Addisville Reformed Church in Richboro.

"I haven't seen many pictures of Israel, so everything is going to be new and exciting," Hall said.

Her daughter, Evelyn Sellers, is looking forward most of all to the Garden of Gethsemane and being baptized in the Jordan River.

"There's just so much excitement with everything. These are the places that we read about as children," Sellers, 77, said. "I know I'm going to be transformed."

The itinerary for the 10-day drip is ambitious - Nazareth, Roman ruins, a kibbutz, a cruise on the Sea of Galilee, a spa on the Dead Sea, the Temple Mount, rabbinical tunnels, Bethlehem, and dozens of historical sites in between. Every day is packed with sightseeing, bus rides, and cultural events.

Hall isn't worried about the rigors of travel. "If I want to sit down, I don't have to tell everyone - I will just sit down."

"She's hardy," Sellers said. "It's amazing, we walk every day" around the Bucks County retirement community where they live.

Last year Hall went to Washington to see the cherry blossoms. "We brought a wheelchair, but she walked the whole time. The only thing in the wheelchair was the coats," Sellers said.

Their trip caught the attention of Israel's consul general, who invited Hall and her fellow travelers to a reception at the Philadelphia consulate Friday afternoon.

"There are many elderly people traveling to Israel. But . . . to have someone undertake their first trip to Israel at this advanced age really shows their passion, love of the land, devotion, and curiosity," Consul General Yaron Sideman said. "These are characteristics that many people lose along the course of their lives."

Deputy Consul Elad Strohmayer said the timing of the trip was ideal. "You're fulfilling a Jewish commitment," he said. "Because now we're in Passover, and at the end of the Seder we say, 'Next year in Jerusalem,' L'Shana Haba'a B'Yerushalayim."

"We can say, 'Next week in Jerusalem,' " said Addisville Pastor Doug Dwyer, who along with his wife, Jane, organized the trip for their Christian congregation.

The pilgrimage started out as a 27th anniversary trip for the Dwyers.

"I said I wanted to go to London, and my wife said, 'Well that's just great. You're going to Israel,' " Dwyer joked.

Jane Dwyer has been to Israel twice before and has been yearning for years to return.

It seemed only fitting to invite members of the congregation to join them, she said. Fourteen signed up.

Sellers said Israel "wasn't one of the things on my 'bucket list.' But when I heard about the trip, I thought, 'I just have to go.' "

Sideman said he envied Hall and the others who will be seeing the Holy Land for the first time. "I truly envy you," he said, "because you're about to experience something so majestic, so lovely, so powerful. It will stay with you forever."

Sellers teared up as Sideman presented them with a picture book of Israel's history. "It's a memory that we will have and keep in our hearts wherever we go," Sellers said.

Soon after they return, Hall will celebrate her 105th birthday and Sellers her 78th.

And then, Hall hopes for another big outing. "I hope I live long enough to see the new Yankee Stadium."

"A second pilgrimage!" Dwyer said.


Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117, jparks@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @JS-Parks.

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