BEIRUT — “Keep Lebanon close to your heart.” That’s the concept behind a golden pin given to French President Emmanuel Macron by an 11-year-old Beirut girl that adorned his lapel during meetings with Lebanese officials Tuesday.
The pin was a gift from the daughter of Hala Tayah, one of 190 victims of the Beirut explosion that pulverized the Port of Beirut, destroyed parts of the city and hurt more than 6,000.
Tamara Tayah was one of a few relatives of victims of the blast to meet Macron. She met him during a ceremony to plant a cedar tree in a forest outside of Beirut to mark 100 years since the creation of the State of Greater Lebanon.
Her mother, a jeweler, created the pendant shaped like the map of Lebanon. She created 10,452 golden maps, a reference to the size of the country in square kilometres. Her “keep Lebanon close to your heart” collection was a tribute to Lebanon, a country plagued by crises. Her opening show in 2006 for instance was postponed because it coincided with Israel’s attack on Lebanon that summer.
Hala Tayah dedicated profits from the collection to the education of disadvantaged children in a country often plagued with crisis, and another part to children with special needs.
Tayah, 49, was in an apartment close to the port at the time of the explosion that was badly destroyed.
French actress Isabelle Adjani mourned Tayah on her social media, posting a picture of them hugging. “I am devastated for my Lebanese friends,” Adjani posted on her Instagram page after the Aug. 4 explosion.
In a visit big on gestures, Macron wore the pin to his meetings with the Lebanese officials he is pressing for radical changes to save Lebanon as it faces some of its most complex challenges since independence all at once.
At the cedar planting ceremony, Tamara Tayah also handed Macron a letter which she said she penned on behalf of her mother and other victims of the tragedy, her father said.
In the letter, the younger Tayah said that on Lebanon’s centenary, she would like to have peace and prosperity back. One hundred years ago on Sept. 1, France created the State of Greater Lebanon, the country’s original name, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. It remained under a French mandate for some two decades before the Republic of Lebanon declared its independence.
Tarek Tayah said he discussed the letter with his daughter, but she wrote it. In it, she said that those killed in the explosion are victims who would only be considered martyrs if a new Lebanon develops from the tragedy.
It is an expression of hope that they “won’t be lost for nothing,” said Tarek Tayah. He said Macron was emotional and he reached over and hugged Tamara.
“Hala is definitely proud, even from above, she is making things possible for her children, and for her country,” said Twiggy Tayah, the jeweler’s best friend who is also a distant relative.