Vicki Gabriner was born in 1942 in Flatbush, Brooklyn. She was raised in a politically-active family and learned the importance of fighting for social justice from her mother. Gabriner now perceives an important link between Jewish values and activism for social justice, though her parents did not make this connection explicit to her as a child.
Gabriner became a radical activist during her college years at Cornell, where she was involved in the civil rights movement and nascent antiwar activities. After college, she spent three summers in Fayette County, Tennessee, with a Cornell-affiliated group, living with the black community, teaching at Freedom Schools, and working on local elections, voter registration, and integration of public facilities. During the school year, she earned a master's degree in education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
In 1968, Gabriner moved back to New York and taught in a decentralized school district. During this time, she also joined the radical student activist group Weathermen (an association about which she has very ambivalent feelings), traveled to Cuba with the Venceremos brigade, and became a feminist. Gabriner moved to Atlanta in 1970, where she came out as a lesbian and helped to found the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance. In 1973, Gabriner was arrested for her participation in a Weathermen action several years earlier. She was convicted in a 1977 trial and won her appeal in 1978.
Gabriner became more involved with Jewish life as an adult when she began studying for her bat mitzvah, which took place in 1995 at Temple Israel in Boston. In the course of this exploration, she discovered an interest in Yiddish and Eastern European Jewish life. She remains a member of Temple Israel and was involved in Women Whose Lives Span the Century, a cooperative oral history project between Temple Israel and the Jewish Women's Archive.