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A Santa Tour de Force

What’s a nice Jewish boy doing giving Santa Claus tours in New York City? That question can be posed to Jared Goldstein, an ebullient East Village resident who in recent years has led visitors around the city on many kinds of tours.

“Somebody’s got to do it,” Goldstein said while describing his Santa tours, entertaining strolls to sites with connections to Christmas and the history of Santa in America. While there are already a lot of “holiday lights tours” of department store windows and such, Goldstein said, no one else has considered a Santa Claus tour. His tour celebrates the 200th anniversary of Santa, who, according to his research, was declared the patron saint of New York at a meeting at the old City Hall.

His eyes flash as he waxes rhapsodic about the city’s past. Goldstein, 43, comes well equipped to give these walking jaunts. His influences include American historians Kenneth Jackson and the late James Shenton, both professors at Columbia University, where Goldstein majored in English literature. At that time, he gave tours of Columbia University that discussed, among other things, how poet Allen Ginsberg was sent packing from the school.

Goldstein’s Santa tour, which costs $25 per person ($12 for seniors, less for younger ones) and runs about two hours, includes a stop in Tribeca at the building of the now-defunct New York Sun newspaper, which published the celebrated “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” letter. At Union Square, he visits the outdoor Holiday Market, where merchants sell gifts, and at Madison Square Park he points out the Commodore Criterion building, which has elves resembling Santa in its windows year-round. At Herald Square, he explains how the Strauses, a Jewish family, once came to own Macy’s, a department store intimately tied up with Santa’s history.

Prior to becoming a tour guide, Goldstein worked in the technology field doing business development while involved in a number of endeavors, such as volunteering on the campaign for the first city council member from the Dominican Republic. He got into the tour business after a friend pointed out to him that he could get paid for showing people around the city he cherishes. A class from guide and raconteur Lee Gelber helped prepare him.

“This is the job I fell in love with,” Goldstein said. He recently celebrated five years as a tour guide, making a living by giving a variety of excursions, including George Washington›s New York, the Dutch history of New York and a tour of community gardens in the East Village. He credits his interest in giving tours to his parents telling him stories about the city. Although he grew up on suburban Long Island in a secular home, Goldstein attended Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation, a Conservative synagogue, on the High Holy Days. At the Wheatley School, Goldstein wrote an editorial in the school newspaper, protesting the placement of a menorah and Christmas tree in that public high school. He was going to agitate further, but relinquished the fight after receiving some parental advice. “You know,” he recalled his mother saying, “there are much bigger problems than this.

Upon moving to the city, he joined the Garment Center Synagogue in Midtown, where his father’s best friend was president. Today, he vigorously enjoys entering Chabad Lubavitch Mitzvah Tanks, because Lubavitchers find “people like me integral to Judaism.” Goldstein says he feels no conflict being Jewish and giving a Santa tour; his mission is to share the story of the specialness of New York City. “Santa is about fun,” he explained.

Goldstein may have overlooked some key places on his tour. He could have, of course, shown how Santa Claus picks up his most famous, red-nosed reindeer from Congregation Rodeph (“Rudolph”) Sholom on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Goldstein could have explained how Santa lands his snow-covered sleigh in the middle of Orchard Street, looking for bargains on Christmas stockings amid the old Jewish neighborhoods on the Lower East Side. Writer Robert Reiss suggested that perhaps Goldstein could describe how Santa then stops off at the Seagram Building to see Edgar Bronfman about stocking up on whiskey and rum for eggnog.

But Goldstein, a tour de force on Gotham’s streets, is already too busy working on a book, “Interview With Santa Claus,” which features Santa Claus narrating a tour of New York.

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to his love of Santa Claus. Like a mild-mannered, though Hebraized, Clark Kent revealing his identity, Goldstein points at his blue shirt and white undershirt beneath his Christmas-hued red sweater and green scarf. “Israel’s colors,” he said, “lie closest to my heart.”

For Goldstein’s tour schedule, click here.

Gary Shapiro is a writer living in New York.

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