Dr. Faina Nagel, a dentist who practiced in Columbia and had earlier lived in Leningrad and Israel, died of stomach cancer March 9 at her Howard County home. She was 54.
Born Faina Okun in Belarus, she grew up in Leningrad and attended the Leningrad Pediatric Institute. Her father, a physics teacher, suffered the loss of his family, who were Jews, during World War II. Her mother was a store manager.
As a teen, she was a member of the Young Communist Party. Family members said she encountered anti-Semitism and left the U.S.S.R. in 1979 with other Jews and settled in Haifa in Israel.
The next year, she met her future husband, Louis Nagel, who had graduated recently from the University of Maryland, College Park and was in Israel teaching English. They met at a Hanukkah party.
"I brought her flowers every week. We cooked together, and her housemates once predicted we would do well because of how we worked together in the kitchen," said her husband. "We listened to a lot of great music, we delighted in traveling, went to movies and entertained frequently in our home."
The couple did not immediately marry. She earned a master's degree in pharmacology at the Haifa Technion before joining her future husband in Baltimore. They had two ceremonies, a Towson Courthouse wedding in late 1986 and a religious ceremony at the historic Lloyd Street Synagogue on June 28, 1987, with family and friends in attendance.
While studying for a doctorate in pharmacology at the University of Maryland, she decided on a career change.
"She walked across the street one day and applied at the School of Dentistry," her husband said. "The admission officials looked at her credentials and said, 'You're in.'"
She graduated in 1992 and practiced in downtown Columbia until October of last year. She worked at the Dental One practice.
"Dentistry was the ideal career for her, a perfect fit," said her husband. "She could come face to face with an individual and invade their personal space. She put unnerved people at ease. Internally, she was a calm person. She radiated warmth. She was known for her personable human touch."
Dr. Nagel was a voracious reader of newspapers, periodicals and books. In addition to Russian and English, she also read in Hebrew.
She enjoyed travel, fine arts, fashion, bicycling, jazz and stand-up comedy. She regularly attended concerts of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Services were March 13 at Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County.
In addition to her husband of 24 years, survivors include two daughters, Margo Nagel and Jamie Nagel, both of Fulton; and a brother, Igor Okun, a sister, Maya Zabaro, and her mother, Sara Okun, all of Haifa, Israel.