AT DAYBREAK ON April 1, 1987, a dozen FBI agents pulled up in front of the sprawling East Meadow (N.Y.) home of Murray Young, a 60-year-old member of the Jewish Defense League. Acting on an informant's tip, federal agents seized 17 firearms in Young's home, including several rifles, an Uzi submachine gun, stun guns, as well as JDL bank records and membership lists, and detailed notes made by JDL officials about JDL bombings directed at organizations affiliated with the Soviet Union. Last month Young was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in August to federal charges in a wave of New York bombings between 1984 and 1986, including an attack on Avery Fisher Hall on Oct. 20, 1986 just before the Moscow State Symphony was to appear.

The same day that Young was arrested on a federal weapons violation charge, JDL founder Rabbi Meir Kahane was soliciting donations at his cousin's synagogue, the West Side Jewish Community Center on 34th Street in Manhattan. Kahane did not tell the overflow crowd of enthusiastic supporters that Murray Young -- his trusted associate and the man who organized his security in the New York area during his numerous fund raising tours -- had been arrested for participation in a long line of JDL terrorist incidents. For Kahane, who was not implicated in the charges, it was business as usual. He was free to raise money in the United States for his stridently anti-Arab Kach Party, which has one seat in Israel's 120-seat Knesset, while one of his aides was on his way to jail.

Kahane's amazing political success in Israel has been the result in large part of his ability to raise money from wealthy Jews in America. Amnon Rubinstein, who resigned as Israeli minister of communications last May, estimates that Kahane brings into Israel about $500,000 a year -- enough money to set up more than 50 branch offices around Israel, buy a sound truck, sophisticated telecommunications equipment and a printing press that churns out a seemingly never-ending stream of the controversial rabbi's political pronouncements.

Kahane founded and is associated with three organizations in the United States: Kach International, the Institute for the Authentic Jewish Idea and Jewish Overview. In 1984, a month after winning a seat in the Israeli Knesset, Kahane announced that he was stepping down as head of the Jewish Defense League. The JDL continues to view Kahane as its spiritual leader.

Over the years, Kahane has attracted an odd collection of admirers, including former Haagen-Dazs ice-cream president Reuben Mattus, 1987 Tony award winner Jackie Mason and attorney Barry Ivan Slotnick, who this year successfully defended subway gunman Bernhard Goetz and reputed mobster John Gotti. In the early 1970s, after an introduction by Slotnick, Kahane even forged a close relationship with Joseph Colombo Sr., the late head of the Colombo crime family.

A six-month inquiry into Kahane's political activities in the United States reveals that the Brooklyn-born rabbi's support is far broader than the radical, right-wing fringes of New York's Jewish community. What's more, according to ex-JDL officials, Kach Party activists and federal investigators, Kahane's organizations have set up several charitable tax-exempt foundations in the United States that have sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kahane's movement in Israel. Many Israeli organizations raise money in the United States for religious cultural and educational purposes, taking advantage of tax-free status that allows donors to claim deductions for their contributions. But federal tax codes bar such charitable tax-exempt foundations from using contributions to finance political campaigns.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Charlie Rose, as part of a wider probe into JDL activities, federal investigators are probing whether tax exempt funds raised by Kahane's organizations are being funneled to Israel to be used for political activities in violation of federal tax laws.

Adela Levy, Kahane's secretary in New York and the person listed on the Jewish Idea's tax return as its director, says the money these organizations raise is used to further Kahane's message in America. When asked if Kahane uses money collected by these organizations for his political activities in Israel, she replied, "Ask the rabbi."

Kahane refused numerous requests for an interview. "If they gave out Nobel prizes for chutzpah," he said when contacted by phone for comment, "you would certainly win one."

Whatever the propriety of fund-raising activities in this country for Kahane's cause, Kahane appears to be attracting political support in Israel. Though recent polls in Israel indicate that Kahane, who calls for the expulsion of Israel's Arabs, would win only two Knesset seats if early elections were held, his ideas are gaining ground -- especially among young Sephardic Jews, his core constituency. A recent poll published in the Israeli magazine Monitin revealed that 21 percent of the Israeli public approve of Kahane's political views. And a poll conducted by the prestigious Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem last year found that 33 percent of Israel's youth between the ages of 15-18 support the rabbi's fiercely anti-Arab stance.

Kahane has long been a thorn in the side of the governments of Israel and America. The JDL, which he founded in New York in 1968 to protect poor and elderly Jews left behind in America's decaying urban centers, was soon taking credit for the bombings of Russian embassies and the beating and harassment of Russian and Arab diplomats.

In 1971, Kahane was convicted in a New York federal court for conspiracy to manufacture explosives. He received 5 years probation. The following year he was arrested in Israel for attempting to smuggle explosives to Europe to blow up the Libyan Embassy in Brussels in revenge for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Kahane's lawyer argued that he had acted out of patriotism. He received a two-year suspended sentence. Kahane has been convicted of a number of other offenses in Israel and the United States, including sedition and inciting a riot.

Kahane's mainstream supporters in America bear little resemblance to their Sephardic counterparts in Israel. Among the wealthy Jews who have generously supported various Kahane organizations in the past is Reuben Mattus, the founder of Haagen-Dazs ice cream. "If they {the JDL} needed money, I gave it," Mattus told me in 1985, although he says he has not supported the controversial rabbi for some time.

Kahane told me in November 1984 that donations to him have increased "especially from Jewish millionaires," since his election to the Knesset. "Everybody loves a winner," he said. Kahane travels across the United States four or five times a year in search of funds. Kahane expertly tailors his appeal for funds to fit the audience. In front of middle and upper middle class groups, he mixes stinging criticism of the "pygmies and dwarfs" he says run the major American Jewish organizations, with Borscht Belt one liners ridiculing mixed marriages. For Orthodox Jews, he throws in biblical injunctions against mixing with gentiles, and declares Israel should be a theocratic state. His constant theme is that Arabs must leave Israel because they are a threat to the state's existence. If they do not leave willingly, he says, they should be deported at gun point.

Rabbi Gabriel Maza of the Suffolk Jewish Center on Long Island, said Kahane's May 11 appearance at his synagogue was "subdued and dignified." "He talked about exchange of populations, of the Arab demographic threat to Israel," said Maza, who noted that about 100 people attended at $50 a head, half of which went to Kahane's movement. Appeals for funds from the floor followed Kahane's speech, with one man handing him a personal check for $10,000, said Maza.

Maza's brother, Jackie Mason, who recently won a Tony Award for his one-man performance in "The World According to Me!", drove from Manhattan to hear Kahane. Mason told me during an interview in his dressing room at the Brooks Atkinson Theater last June, that Kahane's analysis of why the Arabs pose a demographic threat to Israel is correct. "Democratic principles shouldn't apply to Israel like they do in America," said Mason, an ordained rabbi who grew up on New York's Lower East Side. "If Arabs multiply to such an extent where they become as numerous as Israeli Jews, they can vote out the Jews and end the Jewish State. Jews would become aliens in their own country. And that's the problem, and that's why Meir Kahane is right! You are stupid, and so are people like yourself who say how terrible we are to the Arabs!"

Last March, Mason went on Kach's Monday evening FM radio program in New York, praising many of Kahane's political views. In 1972, Mason did a benefit for the JDL legal defense fund at a Queens theater over the protest of his agent. "I was eager to do it," he told me, because the JDL was doing good work defending persecuted Jews. Last August, Mason said, he was asked to do a JDL benefit, but he declined because he said he opposes their "violence."

The backbone of Kahane's support in America, however, is unquestionably the Orthodox Jewish community. It is not so much the money he gets from prominent rabbis as their seal of approval that is so important. His personal appearances in Orthodox syngagogues sometimes take on a carnival-like atmosphere. "There is no individual I know who can attract an audience like Kahane," says Rabbi Max N. Schreier, first vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest body of Orthodox Rabbis in America. Schreier, whose own syngagogue, the Avenue N Jewish Center in Flatbush, has been the scene of frequent Kahane appearances, says that Kahane fills his synagogue when he speaks there.

Schreier says Kahane's work with the JDL helped instill a sense of pride in the American Jewish community. "When he urged Jews to stand up to the challenge of the blacks and to the challenge of anti-Semites, it made a great deal of sense." But Schreier, who believes Israel should annex the West Bank, is uncomfortable with Kahane's call to expel the Arabs because, he says, "It arouses violent animosity among non-Jews and doesn't enhance the position of Jews in America."

One of Kahane's most stunning successes has been to attract major financial support from the Allepo, Syrian Jewish community of Flatbush, perhaps the wealthiest Jewish community in the world. Until last year, Syrian Jewish leaders barred Kahane from even speaking in neighborhood syngagoues. Opposition to him slackened however, with his growth in the Israeli polls. A recent Sunday afternoon fundraiser in the home of electronics magnate Ralph Betesh, Kahane's key organizer in the New York Syrian Jewish community, netted some $20,000. Every major rabbi from the community attended, as well as prominent businessmen. Betesh says that some donors are so worried about being tied to Kahane that they have passed money to him through a sympathetic New York yeshiva rather than make out checks or give cash to his organizations.

The Institute for the Authentic Jewish Idea, Kahane's major fundraising arm in the United States, currently shares office space and a post box in Brooklyn with Kach International, another fund-raising and informational arm of Kahane's in America. The

According to incorporation papers filed with the New York State attorney general's office, The Jewish Idea was set up "to educate and enlighten members of the community in order that they may be better informed as to current world problems and their effect on Judaism and the Jewish community."

The Jewish Idea, which was set up in 1979, is currently on the IRS rolls as charitable, tax-exempt organization that can solicit tax-deductible contributions. According to IRS law, tax-deductible contributions cannot be used to finance, influence or intervene even indirectly in political campaigns. The law also severely limits political lobbying and the dissemination of propaganda. However, according to numerous Kach donors and other sources familiar with Kahane's fund raising methods, Kahane, in seeking contributions to the Jewish Idea, has said unabashedly that the money would help finance his political movement in Israel. "Donations from the Jewish community {to Kahane} are funneled to the Jewish Idea and that's sent to the rabbi in Israel . . . . It goes to Kach. It's political," says Ed Solomon, head of the JDL in Philadelphia and a Kach Party activist. He says a recent fundraiser for Kahane in Philadelphia attended by Orthodox Jewish lawyers netted $50,000 in checks made out to the Jewish Idea. An elderly Kahane supporter from Tucson who said, "I would give him everything I have," has contributed more than $10,000 in checks to The Jewish Idea. "It's tax deductible and the money goes to him in Israel."

Several officials of the Jewish Idea acknowledged that money raised by the organization is sent to Kahane in Israel, but they said the funds are used there for educational purposes.

During Kahane's successful bid for the Knesset in 1984, The Jewish Idea mailed fliers to prospective contributors asking them to mail checks made out to the Jewish Idea in order "to send Kach and Kahane to power in Israel." At a fall fundraising dinner for the Jewish Idea at the prestigious Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, contributors were told that their tax-exempt donations to the Jewish Idea would help Kahane win 10 Knesset seats in the next election, according to Mal Leibowitz, a Kach activist who was on the dinner steering committee. Kahane raised $40,000 at the dinner, said Richard Propis, Kach International's treasurer.

The Jewish Idea has received $788,115 in contributions between 1980 and June 30, 1986, according to tax returns. It has also received as much as $10,000 per year from the JDL, which is listed on its returns as an affiliated organization.

Though Kahane's vision of Israel and the means he advocates are abhorrent to the vast majority of American Jews, he has a surprisingly large, affluent cadre of supporters who through their donations keep him in the thick of Israeli public life. "We are very much impressed with his integrity and we believe his program is a Torah program which has every chance of succeeding in Israel," says Rabbi Abraham Hecht of Brooklyn, one of the prominent rabbis from New York's Syrian Jewish community that has enthusiastically endorsed many of Kahane's views. "We believe that while some of his preachments sound to be very radical, they are not contrary to what an Orthodox Jew should believe."

Robert Friedman, an Alicia Patterson fellow, is a New York-based freelance writer.