A local telethon held yesterday to help raise money for Soviet Jews immigrating to Israel far exceeded expectations, largely because of the Persian Gulf War, organizers said.

The daylong event, held by the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville, was expected to yield pledges of $2 million, but attracted $2.45 million in pledges. Last year, the event raised $1.8 million.

Organizers said that at least 50 percent of the money will aid Jews who are moving into Israel. The rest will go to other causes supported by the appeal.

In spite of the current economic downturn, "people are being very responsive," said Ted B. Farber, executive vice president of the United Jewish Appeal. "Because the Jewish community is working so hard to aid in resettlement, and with the war's impact on Israel, people are doing things they've never done before."

Participants saw the occasion as more than a fund-raiser. They said it represented a chance for the area's Jewish community to show solidarity during a time of great crisis in Israel.

"These people are here because they want to be, which is wonderful, especially in critical days like the present," said Zalman Shoval, Israel's ambassador to the United States, as hundreds gathered at the Rockville center. "Whenever there is a sense of real outside danger, the Jewish people rally together."

The Persian Gulf War has heightened concern for the hundreds of Soviet Jews -- sometimes as many as 1,000 -- entering Israel daily.

Shoval said that about 200,000 Soviet Jews immigrated to Israel last year, and about a million are expected to arrive there within three to five years.

The huge influx has created a huge need for housing, jobs and social and educational programs.

"The most important problem will be revitalizing the economy," Shoval said. The Soviet Jews "are well-trained, well-educated people, but we will have to invest a lot of money in retraining, reeducation."

The many dignitaries at the event included Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.) and D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4).

Most of the politicians said they had been attending the fund-raiser for several years, and some sat among the 1,800 volunteers and made phone calls to area residents, asking them to aid the cause.

"It's an appropriate place for generosity to be focused," Moran said. "I'm very proud of the state of Israel for showing restraint in the face of {Iraqi President Saddam} Hussein's blatant attempt to draw them into a war. I think they showed a great deal of strength and courage in turning the other cheek."

Volunteers said that many contributors were first-time givers, and that others decided to increase their donations this year.

"The war is affecting a lot of people," said volunteer David Moses, 59, of Takoma Park. "It's obviously a terrible time in Israel, and people feel the need to do their share. This year is something very special."

Some volunteers were Jews who only recently left the Soviet Union for the Washington area. Olga Ryzhikov, 35, a teacher who came to Silver Spring from Leningrad in April 1989, said she felt compelled to help yesterday because she still has Jewish friends in the Soviet Union.

"I got help from the Jewish community, and I have to pay them back," Ryzhikov said. "I hope the job I did today will help my friends. I know they need this help."