"Based on my own experience of intensive harassment from Rombom, I can find it perfectly understandable how he snapped. Only someone who has been attacked by bullies bent on your destruction month after month understands how that builds tremendous tension." — Robert I. Friedman quoting Dennis King who is discussing why Mordechai Levy snapped
Steven Rombom currently more often goes by the name Steven Rambam. The hand-grenade photograph with caption appeared in the original Village Voice article.
Village Voice 22-Aug-1989
Oy Vey, Make My Day
Fear and Loathing in the Jewish Underground
BY ROBERT I. FRIEDMAN
ORDECHAI LEVY WAS AN accident waiting to happen. By his own account, the paunchy, 27-year-old loner who sprayed Bleecker Street with rifle fire last Thursday afternoon, has spent more than a decade moving in and out of the often violent world of radical fringe groups, supplying information to intelligence agencies and Jewish organizations, including the FBI and the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai Brith. In the early 1980s he was a maverick Jewish Defense League activist in Los Angeles, where his harassment of white hate groups became legendary.
|Is this the man who caused Mordechai Levy to shoot up Bleecker Street?
Above, Levy's target, Steven Rombom, in a carefree mood: inset, Levy bundled off to prison.
During the same period he would sometimes turn up on the East Coast, reincarnated as a security agent for the anti-Semitic conspiracy group headed by Lyndon LaRouche. LaRouche once said of Levy, "I think of him as my son." But Levy later became a federal informant gathering evidence on LaRouche, who was later convicted for loan fraud.
Meanwhile, his uncanny ability to track down KKK members and neo-Nazis astounded federal officials. "Levy does appear to possess membership lists of neo-Nazi groups and KKK members across the U.S.," a confidential FBI memorandum reported. On one occasion Levy even dressed in full Nazi regalia to apply for a parade permit to march at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, apparently in a misguided effort to alert the local Jewish community to the dangers of neo-Nazism.
Several years ago, Levy moved to New York and founded the Jewish Defense Organization, a tiny mutant offshoot of the JDL dedicated to violent harassment of its enemies.
But in the last few months, nothing has obsessed Levy more than his increasingly bitter feud with two rival Jewish militants — West Coast JDL boss Irv Rubin and convicted JDL terrorist Steven Rombom. When these two — together with Allan Klebanoff, a bearded, hulking, 27-year-old Israeli army veteran from Haifa — came to the JDO's fortresslike Bleecker Street headquarters to serve Levy with court papers stemming from a libel action, something in the tightly wound Levy apparently snapped.
"Mor-dy, Mor-dy, we've got something for you," the militants sang in taunting voices described by eyewitnesses as something out of Nightmare on Elm Street. Levy, who had an arsenal of licensed weapons in his office, allegedly went to the roof and sprayed the street with a burst of semiautomatic rifle fire, wounding a retired air conditioning repairman as he sat in a parked van. "They were really provoking the guy," said Dominic Spinelli, who was taken to the emergency room at St. Vincent's hospital. Spinelli says that the three men knocked at Levy's door and, after receiving no answer, began to throw stones at the windows and to shout "Come on Mordechai, we know you're in there." "I guess the guy just got mad and started shooting."
round midnight on Wednesday, just 12 hours before the shoot-out on Bleecker Street, I received a call from Levy, with whom I have discussed Jewish militant activities over the years. "I'm sorry to call you so late but it's an emergency," he said, panting into my phone answering machine. "Pick up. Listen, Rubin is in New York with Rombom. They are fucking looking for you." Levy, more hyperkinetic than usual, said that the men had staked out The Village Voice offices that afternoon, waiting for a chance to "teach me a lesson" for writing a book about Kahane that they were sure they wouldn't like. "Rombom is armed," warned Levy. "They are looking for you. Call me any time, day or night."
Both Rombom and Rubin were later to tell me that Levy's midnight call was just one more delusion produced by a very, very sick mind. And they say they posed no threat to Levy when they were met with rifle shots from a Ruger Mini-14 on Thursday.
Moments after the shooting, Bleecker Street looked like a war zone. Dozens of heavily armed police, backed by an armored personnel carrier and a bomb disposal robot, had cordoned off the neighborhood as the JDO leader holed up in his office, phoning friends for advice. An FBI agent Levy knew finally convinced him to surrender.
As Levy, looking downcast and extremely frightened, was led in handcuffs to a waiting unmarked police car, he told reporters, "They were trying to kill me."
Just a few hours later, after he'd been booked, Levy called me from the 9th Precinct, telling police detectives as a pretext that I was his lawyer.
"Man, [Rombom and Rubin] came last night after I spoke to you," Levy said, his voice calm and attention focused. "I have witnesses, the guys who live upstairs. I had them say I'm not there. They said, 'Mordy, we're going to kill you, we're going to get you.' I pretended I wasn't there.... And then today, they came back.
"I was one floor up and I saw Rombom at the door," Levy continues. "He was with another idiot. I don't know who it was. I was looking outside and one of them had like a metal thing trying to pry open the damn door. I called 911. They didn't come. Five minutes later, they were prying at the door. The sounds were getting louder. I called 911 a second time. I got the operator's number — number 96. Fortunately, she taped it. I said I got guys at my front door with a gun in their hand, you know, three guys. I recognized Rombom right away, and he had the gun in his hand. I didn't recognize the faces except for Rombom.
"They were out to get you and me ... there is no question about it. They couldn't find you, so they went after me.
"Irv Rubin has a history of pistol-whipping me. Listen man, it was really self-defense. They were going to break in and kill me. When one guy has a gun in his hand, I don't care, I don't have to wait until he aims it at my head.... These guys wanted to kill me, man."
Wild as it may seem, he's not alone in that belief. "I think Rubin and Rombom went to Levy's to rub him out," says a well-known Jewish militant.
But police sources investigating the shooting are more skeptical: "These guys cry wolf so much you never know what's really happening," says a law enforcement official. "Think of what might have happened: Rombom and Rubin could have left Bleecker Street in a body bag."
The feud between Rubin and Levy first erupted in the early 1980s, when Levy decided to leave the JDL chapter in Los Angeles because it was not "militant enough" for him. Levy then created the JDO, which was really nothing more than a roll of quarters and a phone booth across from his favorite deli where Levy made harassing telephone calls to "enemies of the Jewish people."
Rubin, who had long suffered the ignominy of playing second fiddle to the king of Jewish militants, Rabbi Meir Kahane, wasn't keen on letting the young upstart with a scraggly beard and unkempt clothes upstage him. After repeated taunts and threats, Rubin told me in 1985 that he beat Levy so severely he was hospitalized. Rubin now denies he beat Levy.
Levy later moved to New York and joined Lyndon LaRouche's cult of paranoid conspiracy theorists as an undercover agent of disinformation and dirty tricks. LaRouche security boss Paul Goldstein was Levy's handler. He assigned Levy to infiltrate the ADL, the JDL, and other groups LaRouche accuses of "destabilizing" the world order. Goldstein set up a "verification unit" to process the information. "Some of it was gold," he told me.
Levy, however, fed dirt on LaRouche to the ADL, the FBI, and Manhattan D.A. Robert Morganthau's office. Author dennis King says Levy's infiltration of the LaRouchies was a classic example of the undercover operative genre. Irwin Suall of the ADL still isn't quite sure what Levy was up to. "His role was enigmatic," said Suall, who told the Washington Post that he was afraid Levy might be taking information back to LaRouche. "I was as certain as I could be not to give him information that would be useful to the LaRouche people. I thought he was playing some sort of complex game."
As Levy was playing his twilight games with the LaRouchies, the Jewish militant scene in New York City was in the process of self-destruction. The preeminent group, the Jewish Defense League, wa founded by Brooklyn-born Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1968. But when the rabble-rousing rabbi moved to Israel in September 1971 — where he founded a political party bent on driving Israel's Arabs
across the Jordan River — his departure left a vacuum. Soon, rival groups of militants, each with one or two wealthy backers, were competing for primacy, sometimes settling their internal squabbles with gunfire and car bombs.
After Levy left LaRouche in '82 or '83, he set up the JDO, adding one more letterhead to the soup of militant Jewish alphabet factions in New York. Operating out of 6 Bleecker Street — a building leased by his major benefactor, millionaire realtor and garbologist A.J. Weberman — Levy was soon harassing the likes of reverends Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton, as well as assorted skinheads and boot-clicking Nazis.
Levy seemed to have a knack for making sure the FBI and the NYPD knew in advance whenever he planned to picket a group likely to give him trouble. Though Levy liked to boast about the size and militancy of his operations, the JDO was never more than a small band of young Jews who would move on after one or two of Levy's protest demonstrations. Levy, who runs a weekend weapons and martial arts training camp in the Catskills taught by a black convert to Judaism, was investigated for a string of Jewish extremist bombings in 1985 that claimed two lives and injured seven. The FBI now believes the suspects are four JDL members who are now in Israel, where they are close associates of Meir Kahane.
"The JDO was a figment of Levy's imagination," says one of Levy's most fervent supporters. "Levy believed there was a group of armed kids that he had trained who were loyal. But when Rubin and Rombom came to get him, he was very much alone."
ombom and Rubin are militant soul-mates, and Levy, who has tangled with them more than once, certainly thought he had reason to fear both. The strapping, strutting, gun-toting Rombom, a 32-year-old private investigator from Brooklyn, concedes that he is "perceived as a head-breaker."
"I was a wild kid who hung around with bad guys," Rombom recently told the San Antonio Express-News in the June 4, 1989, profile that described him as a "Jewish Jim Rockford." "A lot of my contacts today are guys whose parents are or were big hoodlums."
Perhaps Rombom's tough guy obsession began in psychiatric institutions where he spent eight years of his youth, according to court documents. Rombom denies he has ever been institutionalized. Maybe his relationship with the JDL, which began when he was 12, gave him a channel to vent his considerable anger.
In either case, when Kahane asked several JDL members to set up an anti-Arab and anti-Soviet Jewish terrorist underground in 1975, Rombom was an eager participant. For six months in 1976, Rombom and several other JDL militants, calling themselves the Jewish Armed Resistance, tried to emulate the glory days of the JDL.
In New York, pipe bombs exploded outside the Iraqi Mission to the UN, the Polish Consulate, and the Amtrog (Soviet trade mission) Office. Shots were fired into the Soviet residential complex in the Bronx; into the homes of two Soviet diplomats in suburban Maryland; and into the Soviet UN Mission, piercing two fifth-floor windows in the Ukrainian section. On May 2, 1976, in the early morning hours before a march for Soviet Jewry in Manhattan, five low-yield pipe bombs shattered windows and caused minor damage to the American Communist Party national headquarters, two Midtown banks, a Russian-language bookstore, and a subway exit near the United Nations library. On June 23, vehicles belonging to Pan American airlines were destroyed by incendiary bombs.
The flurry of violence stopped when the FBI arrested 17-year-old Steven Rombom, 20-year-old Steven Ehrlich, and 36-year-old Thomas MacIntosh (a convert to Judaism) as they drove across the Goethals Bridge between New Jersey and Staten Island carrying four pounds of gunpowder. MacIntosh, who turned state's evidence, testified against his friends and also implicated 35-year-old JDL leader Russel Kelner and one other person in the spate of Jewish Armed Resistance terror attacks.
The JDL men were subsequently convicted and sent to prison. Rombom copped a plea to transporting explosives across a state line and spent some 20 months in a federal prison in Tallahassee. "Defendant Rombom needs long psychiatric treatment in a disciplined and structured environment," said his probation report. "Recommended against early release."
Rombom is a tragic example of the sort of psychopath Kahane attracted to the JDL. Rombom joined the JDL as a youth over the frantic objections of his doctors and social workers — who called JDL officials and begged them not to allow someone as unstable as Rombom to get involved in the militant organization. Following his conviction, Rombom's mother spun into a deep depression. His father, Abraham Rombom, wrote the judge to plead for his son's early release, saying, "... my marriage has been completely ruined. There is no interest in marital relations on the part of my wife. I cannot talk to her about any subject but Steven."
In 1977 Rombom filed an affidavit with a federal court stating he had been the victim of two homosexual rapes in the Tallahassee prison and should be accorded an early release because he had been rehabilitated. Former Congressman Mario Biaggi, a major JDL supporter, wrote a letter to the warden on Rombom's behalf. According to an affidavit filed by the U.S. attorney's office, Rombom manufactured the rape incident to win early release. Sometime after Rombom was released from prison, he says his criminal record was expunged — meaning that as a youthful offender, his record was sealed and cannot be used against him in a court of law.
California JDL boss Irv Rubin trains recruits.
In spite of the problems his association with the JDL caused Steven, he was still occasionally handling security assignments for Rabbi Kahane as late as 1985 when he visited the U.S. on his frequent fund raising tours. Rombom told me that his private investigation firm, Pallorium, trained JDL security agents somewhere in Canada.
In 1983 Rombom was arrested in Brooklyn for allegedly beating three youths who were apprehended in front of a Brooklyn synagogue on Halloween night by members of a patrol organized by Rombom to combat vandalism against Jewish institutions. The charges against Rombom were later dropped. Rombom says the complainants dropped the charges after admitting that they had misidentified him as the man who beat them. A report in the Long Island Jewish World by a reporter who was with Rombom on the night of the alleged attack confirms Rombom's account of the incident.
The Federal Aviation Administration has investigated Rombom and considered assessing civil penalties against him for successfully smuggling a fake weapon through a security checkpoint at San Antonio International Airport. Rombom says he was trying to point out the airport's lax security. Rombom told me the FAA has concluded that the charges against him were "groundless."
Rombom, who professes some expertise in the field of counter-terrorism, says several synagogues have contacted him about helping them beef up their security as a shield against the spectre of Arab terrorism. "One out of every four hours I spend in the security field is devoted to the Jewish community," says Rombom.
A few years ago, Rombom replied to an ad for the International Association of Airborne Veterans looking for bona fide American paratroopers to participate in a jump with the Israeli air force. Rombom signed on falsely claiming he was a veteran of the Israeli paratroop corps. "The man is a classic bullshitter," says one of the jump's organizers, who added that when he tried to jump the following year, he was told to get lost.
Rombom claims to have worked with a "foreign intelligence agency" for two years and with numerous U.S. police organizations. Several years ago, when Rombom reportedly tried to infiltrate the Russian mob in Brighton Beach for law enforcement agencies, his car was raked with automatic gunfire as he was driving through Brooklyn. "It's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard," Rombom said in response to reports about the alleged mob infiltration. He admitted, however, that his car was shot up by a man he says the police are still looking for. "He's [Rombom's] not the easiest person to deal with," says an ex-assistant DA in Brooklyn who worked with Rombom on an undercover sting operation.
"While the architecture of his personality may be repulsive to some people, he's dedicated to justice being done..." Rombom's longtime friend, country rock musician Kinky Friedman, told the Express-News. Friedman, who is also a successful detective novelist, has based several of his fictional characters on Rombom, and even gives Rombom's name to his hero. Friedman has thanked Rombom in one of his books for being his technical advisor. In 1985, Kinky Friedman and Steven Rombom were announced as the guests of honor at the Jewish Defense League Legal Defense Fund Dinner at Sholom Japan Restaurant in Manhattan.
Rombom has been railing against Levy since at least 1985, when a union between Irv Rubin's West Coast JDL and Levy's JDO — brokered by a wealthy New York Jewish militant — failed to materialize. Soon, Rombom was blabbing to anyone in the press who would listen that Levy was still the illegitimate son of the LaRouchies. According to Paul Goldstein, one of LaRouche's top security agents, Rombom contacted their people in a Texas airport offering his services as a private investigator. Rombom claims he only phoned the LaRouche organization looking for proof that Levy was still one of them. In response, Levy harassed Rombom's parents on the telephone, Rombom says. "That's why I'm furious at this cockroach Levy."
Later that year Rombom slammed a steaming bowl of soup into Levy's head at Bernstein's on the Lower East Side. Rombom has admitted the attack in a phone conversation. Author Dennis King, who was sitting at the table, says that Rombom then threatened King because he was friends with Levy. King says he was threatened by Rombom a second time in a phone call last June 26.
"Levy thinks I'm trying to ruin his life," Rombom said in a conversation with another Jewish militant. "And certainly I am." "I am not an objective, disinterested party where Levy is concerned," he told me. "I take enormous offense to the kind of person Mordechai Levy is."
iven Levy and Rombom's less than amicable history, Irv Rubin was being less than honest when he told the New York media after the Bleecker Street shooting that he asked Rombom to serve Levy court papers simply because Rombom is a licensed process server and because he was willing to do it for free. According to the libel suit filed against the JDO leader by Rubin and his wife in California superior court, Levy accused Rubin of drug-dealing, extortion, and laundering money for a convicted organized crime figure during a radio talkshow in Los Angeles last June — allegations Rubin flatly denies. (Meir Kahane once wrote a letter to Rubin on Knesset stationary accusing him of smuggling drugs from Mexico.)
Levy claims that following the talk show, Rubin and four associates tailed him to his mail drop, where they savagely beat him. Rubin denies it. "Rubin knocked me in the head with a pipe, knocked me in the face, busted my glasses," Levy says. "Then one of them tried to shove me into a car." After the incident, according to another West Coast Jewish militant, Rubin was heard to gloat that if Levy ever returned to L.A., he would be sent back to New York in "a pine box."
Last Thursday morning, August 9, the day Rubin, Rombom, and Klebanoff came to Levy's Bleecker Street headquarters, Levy says he was in bed with a migraine after having been harassed the night before by Rombom. Ironically, it was Tisha Bov, a Jewish holiday that marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, traditionally a day of fasting and prayer. Levy, an Orthodox Jew, had not eaten for some time when he allegedly heard Rubin's distinctive, high-pitched whine outside his door. Levy bolted to the roof, sprayed the sidewalk with rifle fire, and "then locked myself in a closet until I calmed down.
"I was afraid. I was never involved in anything like this before," Levy told me during a telephone interview from the Brooklyn House of Detention, where he
will be held until his bail hearing today.
I asked Levy why he believes Rombom wanted to kill him now, as opposed to at any other time during their stormy relationship. Levy said he believed Rombom thought he had "documents" that he was going to use to hurt the young private eye. "I'm not the kind of person who hurts people or attacks people. These people have a history of attacking me physically. One of them has a history of shooting into occupied dwellings."
Meanwhile, Rubin, who has been arrested on attempted murder and bombing charges and for various other acts of JDL mayhem, says he can't imagine what reason Levy would have to fear him. "We came [to Levy's office] in the middle of the day," Rubin told me. "We had no weapons ... as far as coming to shoot you, it would be a cold day in hell before I even think of that." Rubin says he believes Levy needs long-term psychiatric treatment. He says he's sick of Levy tying up the JDL phone lines with collect calls from Dr. Mengele or Mr. Killajew. "I've had to change my private line eight times in the last year," he said, sighing deeply.
Rombom insists he came to Levy's merely to hand the JDO leader court papers. Levy's allegation that he had a gun is absolutely false, says Rombom. "We were dressed in shirt sleeves and had no jackets. There was no place to conceal weapons." Rombom also says the police conducted a search of his person and his car and did not find a weapon. When asked whether he has a New York State permit to carry a handgun, Rombom replied "No comment."
There's little doubt that Levy's Jewish Defense Organization died in the shoot-out on Bleecker Street. Facing four felony counts — the most serious of which is attempted murder — even if Levy walks it would be surprising if he ever obtained another weapons permit. The Jewish community is almost unanimously opposed to Levy and his brand of militancy.
Still, he has his admirers. "I believe he's really sincere in what [approximately two words obscured on microfilm] Jewish official Malcolm I. Hoenlein told a New York Times reporter several years ago. "He has provided very useful information to us."
Dennis King wonders if there will be anyone else to bird-dog the likes of a Lyndon LaRouche or a Louis Farrakhan if Levy is put out of action.
Yet even Levy's best intentions often give way to his penchant for self-promotion, boomeranging to help the very scoundrels he's trying to bring to heel. In his newsletter former Klansman David Duke thanked the yarmulke-clad Levy for coming down to Louisiana to demonstrate against him during his race for the state legislature. Duke wrote that he was carried into office in part on the anti-Levy backlash.
Only Levy knows what made him snap and open fire. King, who does not condone the shooting, believes there is a rational reason. "Based on my own experience of intensive harassment from Rombom, I can find it perfectly understandable how he snapped. Only someone who has been attacked by bullies bent on your destruction month after month understands how that builds tremendous tension."
For his part, Levy is trying to make the best out of a bad situation. "I'm trying the best I can to be strong," he said. "I think in the end, I'm going to be exonerated, because they came to my place. Rombom was armed. They were out to do me harm."
Steven Rombom, the Jim Rockford of Jewish private detectives and a self-styled security expert, recently expressed his contempt for terrorists during his interview with the Express-News.
"Terrorists, for the most part, are cowards," he said. "They go after light targets."
Like Mordechai Levy.
Research assistance: Jonathan Winocour